The year got off to a good start for most Long Island auto dealers as new vehicle registrations rose by 11.5 percent in January from a year earlier.
The gains in auto sales track with an overall rise in retail spending in January, based on sales tax receipts, which rose 7 percent compared with a year earlier.
The January jump in car registrations follows huge year-over-year increases in December and November as Long Islanders replaced thousands of cars destroyed by superstorm Sandy. But chief economist Pearl Kamer of the Long Island Association, a business group, attributed the January increase less to that factor and more to consumers finally replacing cars they had held on to during the recession.
"The average car on the road is quite old and people feel more confident in spending again and borrowing," she said. She noted that auto loan interest rates are low and she attributed improved consumer confidence in part to the surging stock market and a small improvement in home values.
Co-owner Michael Brown of the 21-store Atlantic Auto Group based in West Islip also attributed the strong January sales to a more confident consumer. "I think the economy was in a different state last year at this time," he said. Another factor, he said, were shortages of some Japanese models a year ago, a situation now resolved.
Big gainers in January among high-volume makes included Volkswagen, up 38.7 percent over a year earlier to 602 cars and trucks. At Donaldsons Volkswagen/Subaru in Sayville, sales manager Jeff Reiter said his midsize Passat sedan was a particularly strong performer that month, followed by the Jetta. "We had a very good lease program on both, but mainly on the Passat, and it came on strong," he said.
Other gainers in January were Mercedes-Benz, up 32.4 percent to 919 vehicles; Subaru, up 32.2 percent to 480; Chevrolet, up 27.7 percent to 931; Toyota, up 27.2 percent to 1,734 cars and trucks; and Ford, up 25.2 percent to 1,318 vehicles.
Honda, the Island's best-selling brand, gained 8.1 percent, to 1,907 vehicles, while registrations of Hyundais were up 2.1 percent to 1,105 vehicles.
The gains for the industry came despite declines by two of the Island's most popular makes -- Jeep and Nissan.