Brooklyn Boro

Sorry, Mayor de Blasio: New Yorkers are buying wheels this summer

August 11, 2020 Rosa Goldensohn, THE CITY
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This story was originally published on June 25 by THE CITY. Sign up here to get the latest stories from THE CITY delivered to you each morning.

Though the mayor might wish it weren’t so, New York City dwellers registered nearly 40,000 cars in July — the highest for the month in recent years, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

With the pandemic deterring many riders from public transportation, some fear a coming “Carmageddon” as New Yorkers ditch the subway en masse for the privacy of car commutes. Mayor Bill de Blasio last week advised citizens to save their money.

“My advice to New Yorkers is, do not buy a car,” de Blasio said during a news conference Thursday. “Cars are the past.”

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Mayor Bill de Blasio wants New Yorkers to avoid buying cars. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY
Registrations were up by 2,000 in June over last year, and up by more than 9,000 in July during the same month in 2019. Still, overall registrations are still down for the year compared to recent ones, after a spring shutdown of car dealerships and DMV offices.

But local dealers are happy to see the summer bump, amid an economic catastrophe that cost New York City 20 percent of its jobs over three months. They attribute the rise to a combination of pent-up demand from the spring and the arrival of new buyers pushed in by the pandemic.

“June and July, I will say, have been strong months for vehicle sales, both used and new,” said Mark Schienberg, president of the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association.

His members were 80 percent behind in sales for the year, compared to 2019, in April, and 50 percent behind in May, he said. But many managed to keep in business by using federal Paycheck Protection Program loans.

‘People Want More Flexibility’

John LaSorsa, who owns LaSorsa Chevrolet Buick in The Bronx as well as a New Rochelle dealership in Westchester County, said the roughly 65 employees at each location are now back to work after the car lots closed for in-person sales in late March.

Business was up 20 percent in June, he said, and 10 percent last month, from a combination of people whose leases had run out during the spring and first-time buyers.

“That’s a little special business for us, more than normal, so we’re loving that,” he said of the newcomers. “People want more flexibility, I guess.”

In Brooklyn, Bay Ridge Honda’s general sales manager, Robert Scarpaci, said that New Yorkers who were previously non-drivers have helped lift business, even as his overall sales still lag behind previous years.

“We saw so many people that were like 40 years old that never had a car before,” Scarpaci said.

Skittish new drivers came in asking for safety features like lane watch and sensors, he added.

“They were like, ‘Hey, listen, if I don’t drive normally, parallel park, I should probably get everything to assist me in that drive.’”

An Uber View

He’s also seen motorists opt for cheaper models.

“We had a lot of customers that came in and said, ‘Hey, Rob, I’m driving the top-of-the-line Accord, and I don’t want to drive that car anymore, I just want to try and go a little bit more basic. And we accommodate them the best we possibly could, ’cause we understand the scenario,” he said.

The mayor’s remarks last week quickly made the rounds of the city’s car salespeople, who weren’t pleased.

“His comments just don’t even make sense in the sense of understanding what people’s needs are, what their lives are and what’s brought to the table as far as jobs and the economy,” Schienberg said.

The DMV numbers didn’t include a geographic breakdown of the owners of recently registered vehicles. Michael Guo, a Uber driver for five years, said he’s noticed changing traffic patterns in recent weeks.

Michael Guo says Brooklyn has had a car boom since the pandemic began, Aug. 9, 2020. Photo: Peter Senzamici/THE CITY

“In Manhattan, there are not so many cars,” said Guo, as he took a break Sunday evening in Park Slope. “But in Brooklyn? Yeah, there are more cars — especially on the weekends.”

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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  1. Joe Fliel

    “My advice to New Yorkers is, do not buy a car,” de Blasio said during a news conference Thursday. “Cars are the past.”

    I don’t recall seeing Big Bird taking the subway to the gym in Park Slope. Oh, I forgot. All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.