Car sales in neutral - and signs point to slow lane ahead

Sales of new cars were in neutral in Northern Ireland in November according to the SMMT
Gary McDonald Business Editor

CAR dealerships in the north saw a seven-month sequence of falling sales pause in November, bucking the wider UK trend, according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

Last month saw an uplift of FOUR new cars on the same month last year - 3,134 new models versus 3,130 a year ago.

But a rise is still a rise, and it came against a wider UK year-on-year plunge of 11.2 per cent, driven by consumers' move away from diesel vehicles.

The Hyundai Tuscon was the top-selling model in Northern Ireland in November, followed closely by the Ford Fiesta, with the VW Golf, Ford Focus and Kia Sportage making up the top five.

But while sales switched into neutral compared with a year ago, the overall trend isn't encouraging, according to Ulster Bank number-cruncher Richard Ramsey.

"New car sales have been on the slide in the UK in 2017, and November marked the eighth successive year-on-year fall, with England, Scotland and Wales all posting double-digit declines last month," he said.

"On the face of it, the Northern Ireland market fared relatively well last month with its marginal 0.1 per cent gain, given that November and December are typically the quietest months for new car showrooms.

"But new car registrations here are 5 per cent below the corresponding period in 2016, and the fall in new car sales (2008-2012) was steeper in Northern Ireland than the rest of the UK while the subsequent recovery has been significantly weaker."

Ramsey added: "With wage growth set to lag inflation for the next year or so, disposable incomes in Northern Ireland will continue to be squeezed, and consumer spending growth will slow significantly.

"But even in a declining market there will be brands, fuel types and certain models that will outperform the market, with alternative fuelled vehicles and premium brands likely to fall into this category."

In the UK as a whole, just over 163,500 new cars were registered in November, the industry figures revealed.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: "An eighth month of decline in the new car market is a major concern, with falling business and consumer confidence exacerbated by ongoing anti-diesel messages from government.

"Diesel remains the right choice for many drivers, not least because of its fuel economy and lower Co2 emissions.

"The decision to tax the latest low emission diesels is a step backwards and will only discourage drivers from trading in their older, more polluting cars.

"Given fleet renewal is the fastest way to improve air quality, penalising the latest, cleanest diesels is counter-productive and will have detrimental environmental and economic consequences."

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