Northern Ireland's new car market endures worst start to year since 2013

The Citroen C3 was the top-selling car in Northern Ireland in March, according to SMMT figures
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE north's car market is enduring its weakest start to a year since 2013, new figures show.

Demand for newly registered models was flat in March, falling by 0.1 per cent from 7,129 to 7122 vehicles, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said.

That compared to an overall 3.4 per cent decline in the UK as a whole as uncertainty over diesel and Brexit continued to hit consumer confidence.

But the total of 16,676 new car sales in Northern Ireland in the first quarter of this year is 3 per cent down (524 fewer vehicle sales) on the corresponding period a year ago.

And following the 9 per cent year-on-year fall in sales in the first three months of last year, Northern Ireland new car sales have reversed by 12 per cent in two years.

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said: "Sales volumes in the latest period represented the weakest quarter in six years. England, Scotland and Wales also posted year-on-year declines with the UK posting its worst Q1 performance in five years.

"Northern Ireland's new car sales volumes on an annual basis remain almost 25 per cent below their 2007 peak. By comparison new car sales in the UK are just two-per-cent below 2007 levels."

He added: "Ongoing confusion with the longevity of diesel cars is one factor impacting upon demand. But so too is consumer confidence or rather the lack of it.

"Looking ahead, 2019 is expected to see the trend in falling new car sales continue.

"Despite an easing in inflationary pressures and wage growth exceeding the rate of inflation, the improvements in consumers' disposable incomes are marginal. Consumer confidence remains in short supply and will continue to weigh on big-ticket discretionary purchases in 2019."

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: "March is a key barometer for the new car market, so this fall is of clear concern.

"While manufacturers continue to invest in exciting models and cutting-edge tech, for the UK to reap the full benefits of these advances we need a strong market that encourages the adoption of new technology.

"That means supportive policies, not least on vehicle taxation and incentives, to give buyers the confidence to invest in the new car that best meets their driving needs.

"Above all, we urgently need an end to the political and economic uncertainty by removing permanently the threat of a no-deal Brexit and agreeing a future relationship that avoids any additional friction that would increase costs and hence prices."

Government grants for new low-emission cars were slashed in October last year, meaning hybrid models are no longer eligible for the scheme.

Motoring groups have warned that decision will leave the UK struggling to meet targets to reduce vehicle emissions.

The Department for Transport has announced a plan to ban new diesel and petrol cars and vans in the UK from 2040 in a bid to tackle air pollution.

:: March's top-selling new cars in Northern Ireland were:

1 Citroen C3

2 Ford Fiesta

3 Citroen C4 Cactus

4 Volkswagen Golf

5 Ford Kuga

6 Nissan Qashqai

7 Vauxhall Corsa

8 Renault Clio

9 Ford Focus

10 Toyota Yaris

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