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New car sales down as demand for diesel vehicles falls amid policy 'confusion'

The Ford Fiesta was the most registered car in Northern Ireland last month according to the SMMT figures
Gary McDonald Business Editor

NEW car sales fell last month in Northern Ireland, though by nowhere near the same percentage rate as the rest of the UK.

A shade over 6,000 cars were driven off forecourts across the north in January (6,049 vehicles), down by 1.5 per cent on the 6,134 sold in the same month in 2017, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said.

But that was against an overall UK decline of 6.3 per cent, with sales going into reverse in every other region - England was down 5.8 per cent and Wales down 5.5 per cent while Scotland plunged by 15.1 per cent.

The Ford Fiesta was the biggest seller in the north last month, while its sister brands the Focus and Kuga were also in the top 10 list.

Volkwagen models figured twice in the list via the Golf and Polo, while also making up the leading marques locally were the Hyundai Tucson, Skoda Superb, Vauxhall Mokka X, Seat Ibiza and Nissan Qashqai.

Demand in the UK as a whole fell across the board, with registrations by business, private and fleet buyers down 29.7 per cent, 9.5 per cent and 1.8 per cent respectively.

Dual purpose cars (SUVs) were the only vehicle segment to see growth, with demand up 6.6 per cent to account for a fifth of all new car registrations.

Registrations of petrol and alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFVs) rose, up 8.5 per cent and 23.9 per cent respectively.

Demand for new diesel cars fell 25.6 per cent as "confusion" over government policy continued to cause buyers to hesitate, said the SMMT.

The society said its latest figures show the importance of diesel cars and engines to the UK economy.

Last year, more than two in five of the cars leaving British production lines were diesels, while manufacturers also produced more than one million engines, directly supporting around 3,350 jobs.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: "The ongoing and substantial decline in new diesel car registrations is concerning, particularly since the evidence indicates consumers and businesses are not switching into alternative technologies, but keeping their older cars running.

"Given fleet renewal is the fastest way to improve air quality and reduce CO2, we need government policy to encourage take-up of the latest advanced low emission diesels as, for many drivers, they remain the right choice economically and environmentally."

Simon Benson, head of motoring services at AA Cars, said: “This data is the first real temperature test of the overall health of the new car industry in 2018, and it paints a fairly bleak picture.

“With the market now in its 10th month of decline, motorists are clearly wary about purchasing a new vehicle. In fact, our own research suggests a lack of consumer confidence cost the industry an estimated £2.6 billion in 2017 alone."

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