Consumer confidence blamed on sharp September slump in new car sales

Citroen had three models in the top 10 selling list in Northern Ireland in September, including the C4 Cactus at number four
Gary McDonald Business Editor

NEW car sales in Northern Ireland reversed by 15.2 per cent in September - blamed in part on a drop in business and consumer confidence due to uncertainty around Brexit.

According to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), 5,365 cars were formally registered during the month, compared to 6,326 in September 2017.

In the year so far, 43,772 new cars have vroomed away from local showrooms - a 4.65 per cent drop on where the market was this time last year (45,906).

But the declines in Northern Ireland were less pronounced than the UK as a whole, where demand for new cars fell by more than 20 per cent month on month.

The SMMT said 338,313 new cars were registered during what is normally one of the industry's strongest months due to the release of new number plates (down from 425,620 in August).

Diesel and petrol registrations were down year-on-year, with a modest rise for alternatively fuelled cars such as pure electrics and hybrids.

The SMMT said the decline was mainly due to changes to the way new cars are tested, with tougher emissions regulations introduced in the European Union.

The organisation's chief executive Mike Hawes said: "This year we've had the first major change in the way you test vehicles - the first change in about 30 years.

"That has led to some major challenges in terms of supply because you've got to change the entire European model range, put them through the test, and that takes a considerable amount of time.

"Some manufacturers have had short supply which has meant sales have been down."

Mr Hawes added that "demand is down a bit" due to a drop in business and consumer confidence due to uncertainty over Brexit.

Ulster Bank economist Richard Ramsey said:““The latest figures continue the trend of falling new car sales that has been evident since early 2016. This year is on course for the weakest new car sales in six years. Some 43,772 new cars were sold during the first nine months of the year. That’s almost 5 per cent lower than the corresponding period last year and 27 per cent below 2007s peak.

“Consumers’ disposable incomes have been squeezed by inflation. Rising food, motor fuel and utility bills are set to see this trend continue into 2019, but this is only part of the story.

"The European motor industry is being disrupted by new emissions standards. Car manufacturers have struggled to adapt quickly to this new regime. Uncertainty surrounding Brexit is impacting on the sector too. A ‘no-deal’ Brexit could significantly disrupt the supply chains of Europe’s auto industry. This would affect the supply of new cars in 2019 irrespective of what demand is there.”

:: The top 10 selling vehicles in Northern Ireland during September were:

1 Ford Fiesta

2 Ford Focus

3 Nissan Qashqai

4 Citroen C4 Cactus

5 Citroen C4 Spacetourer

6 Ford Kuga

7 Citroen C3

8 Seat Lyon

9 Hyundai Tuscon

10 Kia Sportage

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