Fall in consumer confidence slams brakes on new car sales

The VW Golf was the biggest-selling new car in Northern Ireland during 2017 according to SMMT figures
Gary McDonald Business Editor

NEW car sales in Northern Ireland fell by 5.2 per cent last year to their lower level in five years amid falling business and consumer confidence, according to the motor industry's trade association.

Some 54,356 new cars were registered in the north in 2017 compared to 57,324 the previous year, figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) confirmed.

And in December alone, the reverse was even sharper, with sales falling 12.2 per cent on the same month a year earlier (1,800 new cars sold versus 2,049 in the corresponding month in 2016).

The annual percentage decline in Northern Ireland in 2017 was, however, the smallest in the UK (sales fell 10 per cent in Wales, 8 per cent in Scotland and 5.3 per cent in England).

But that will come as little comfort to nervous dealerships, who are bracing themselves for another volatile year as household finances are likely to be squeezed further and pre-Brexit jitters keep biting consumer confidence.

A number of car brands suffered massive sales declines last year, although there were some winners too.

The biggest losers UK-wide included Jeep (minus-55 per cent), Fiat (-27 per cent), Subaru (-26 per cent), Vauxhall (-22 per cent), Renault (-19 per cent), Citroen (-18 per cent) and Peugeot (-17 per cent).

Sales of new luxury cars like Aston Martin (up 63 per cent), Maserati (+19 per cent) and Porsche (+7 per cent) all rose, but so too did those of more affordable brands like Seat (+18 per cent), Toyota (+5 per cent) and Kia (+4 per cent).

Worryingly, SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes predicted that the overall market decline will continue in 2018, with registrations down possibly by another seven per cent.

He also revealed that uncertainty over transitional arrangements following the UK's withdrawal from the European Union in March 2019 has caused some manufacturers to delay investment decisions.

If there is no clarity by the end of March they will have to start implementing "contingency plans" which could harm funding for UK operations, he added.

The market share of diesel cars dropped from 48 per cent in 2016 to around 42 per cent.

Petrol registrations rose 2.8 per cent in 2017 as a whole while alternatively fuelled vehicles reached a record market share of around 4.7 per cent in 2017.

Asked about the decline in diesel cars, Mr Hawes said there is "underlying confusion" among consumers about whether buying such vehicles is "the right thing to do".

Rather than choosing alternatives, many people are "just sitting on their hands", he said.

:: Recent new car registrations in Northern Ireland:

2017: 54,356

2016: 57,324

2015: 57,097

2014: 57,202

2013: 52,460

2012: 47,519

2011: 47,229

2010: 53,489

2009: 52,061

2008: 56,688

2007: 68,708

2006: 65,024

2005: 64,881

:: Top-selling models in Northern Ireland in 2017:

1 Volkswagen Golf 1,957

2 Hyundai Tucson 1,752

3 Ford Fiesta 1,671

4 Ford Focus 1,346

5 Ford Kuga 1,279

6 Kia Sportage 1,167

7 Nissan Qashqai 1,154

8 Volkswagen Polo 1,085

9 Vauxhall Corsa 978

10 Skoda Fabia 807

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