Car sales in the north fall to lowest level in eight years

Northern Ireland was the only UK region to report a fall in new car sales last month in comparison to the previous year.
Gareth McKeown

NEW car sales in the north shifted into reverse last month against the backdrop of an overall UK increase, the latest industry figures show.

Data from the SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) has revealed that Northern Ireland had its quietest February in eight years and was the only UK region to report a fall in new car registrations compared to the previous year.

There were 3,887 registrations in the north last month, an almost four per cent decline on February 2018, while the overall sales in 2019 to date of 9,547 is over 5 per cent down on the previous year (10,078).

The Volkswagen Golf was the popular vehicle in the north for a second consecutive month according to the figures, with 131 registrations recorded in February. The Ford Focus (123) and Nissan Quashqai (123) completed the top three.

In the year to date the Golf (322 registrations) is one of three Volkswagen brands to feature in the top 10. The Ford Fiesta (297) is the second most popular model so far this year, followed by the Hyundai Tucson (278).

Northern Ireland was the only region in the UK to report a reduction in new car sales last month, compared to the same period in 2018, with Scotland and Wales reporting 13.5 per cent and 6.4 per cent spikes respectively.

In England there was a modest increase recorded over the year (0.6 per cent), while in the UK overall a 1.4 per cent uplift was reported.

Sales of petrol models increased by 8.3 per cent year-on-year last month, while diesels fell by 14.3 per cent.

Demand for alternatively fuelled vehicles such as hybrids and pure electrics increased by 34.0 per cent to take a market share of 5.5 per cent.

In the first two months of 2019 UK sales (242,334) were down marginally on the previous year (243,612).

Ulster Bank chief economist, Richard Ramsey said the latest car sales figures for the north highlight a fall in consumer confidence, partly influenced by ongoing Brexit uncertainty.

"New car sales, traditionally viewed as a key barometer of consumer confidence, have been at best flat or falling in each of the last four years," he said.

"Northern Ireland's new car sales market is boosted by a very buoyant Motability market. Without growth in this sector the underlying picture for new car sales and the health of the local consumer appears to be more fragile."

"Brexit uncertainty and a gathering economic slowdown are increasingly impacting on business sentiment. In turn, this will adversely affect consumer confidence," Mr Ramsey added.

SMMT chief executive, Mike Hawes believes there are grounds for optimism in the latest UK figures.

"It's encouraging to see market growth in February, albeit marginal, especially for electrified models," he said.

"Car makers have made huge commitments to bring to market an ever-increasing range of exciting zero and ultra low emission vehicles, and give buyers greater choice.

"These cars still only account for a fraction of the overall market, however, so if the UK is to achieve its electrification ambitions, a world-class package of incentives and infrastructure is needed."

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