Rita Iannuzzi, of Smithtown, checks out a Hyundai while helping...

Rita Iannuzzi, of Smithtown, checks out a Hyundai while helping her mother shop Monday at Atlantic Auto Mall in West Islip. A new report says registration of new vehicles are up, showing that Long Islanders are in a vehicle-buying mood. (July 29, 2013) Credit: Newsday / Jeffrey Basinger

Long Islanders registered 10 percent more new cars in May than a year earlier as the local vehicle market continued to recover from the recession.

Auto data provider R.L. Polk & Co. said Nassau and Suffolk residents registered 18,391 new cars and trucks in May and 86,456 in the first five months of the year, the latter a 9.3 percent jump over the same period last year.

The improvement continues a four-year trend, from a trough of about 150,000 vehicles in 2009 to more than 202,600 last year -- a number boosted by the replacement of thousands of cars destroyed by superstorm Sandy.

New registrations jumped 71 percent and 40 percent, respectively in November and December from a year earlier. This year, registrations have run ahead of last year each month except February, when the blizzard buried inventories on dealer lots and trapped would-be buyers in their homes for days.

Except for the surge from Sandy, the picture nationally was similar as sales plunged from a peak of 17 million in 2005 to a low of 10.4 million in 2009, then improved to 14.9 million last year. This year, analysts expect more than 15 million cars and trucks to be sold.

Industry analysts attribute the gains to improved consumer confidence from a better employment picture and a stronger housing market, along with low interest rates and a large selection of new models. "I think people have managed to shrug off the bad things in the economy," said George Magliano, the Manhattan-based senior auto economist for IHS Automotive, the forecasting firm. "The [federal budgetary] sequester hasn't been all that bad, and people feel that the jobs market is getting better."

He and Tom Libby, Polk's senior forecast analyst for North America, also cite pent-up demand from the postponement of vehicle purchases by individuals and businesses during the recession. "There's no question about that," said Libby. "Vehicles on the road now average 11.2 years old -- the highest since we began keeping records."

On Long Island in May, Honda was once again the bestselling brand, accounting for 2,678 of the total, a gain of 13 percent from a year earlier. Registrations of Fords rose by more -- 35 percent -- to 1,353 vehicles.

But new registrations of Hyundais, traditionally another strong seller on the Island, fell by 16.2 percent, to 1,183 cars and SUVs. Nationally, Hyundai sales were up by about 2 percent.

Co-owner Michael Brown of the 21-store Atlantic Auto Group, based in West Islip, said Hyundai had been having an off year, with few new models, while competitors were seeking market share with deep discounting, including rebates. But, he said, since May, the manufacturer has reacted with new programs. "August should be a gangbuster month," he said.

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