Falling demand for diesels puts brakes on new car market

The Ford Fiesta was again the top-selling new car in Northern Ireland during March
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE new car market in Northern Ireland declined by nearly 17 per cent last month as demand for diesels continues to plummet.

Just 7,122 new vehicles were registered in March compared to 8,556 during the same month in 2017, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

And after the first third of the calendar year, only 17,200 vehicles have left showrooms with zero miles on the clock compared to 18,962 this time last year.

In the UK as a whole, the overall new car market is 12.4 per cent off where it was 12 months ago, with 717,086 vehicles sold against 818,316 in 2017.

There was a whopping 37 per cent slump in the number of new diesel cars bought, whereas registrations of petrol cars rose by 0.5 per cent and demand for alternatively fuelled vehicles such as hybrids and pure electrics increased by 6 per cent.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said March's decline was "not unexpected" given the huge surge in registrations in the same month last year before changes to vehicle excise duty came into effect.

"The market itself is relatively high, with the underlying factors in terms of consumer choice, finance availability and cost of ownership all highly competitive," he said.

Jim Holder, editorial director of What Car? magazine, said low consumer confidence and uncertainty around the future of diesel vehicles "continue to have an impact" on the industry.

It is "pertinent" that the ongoing drop in diesel sales is not matched by equivalent rises in sales of petrol and electrified cars, he told the Press Association.

"Buyers don't believe that petrol or electrified cars can deliver the performance or economy benefits they need, and so they are holding on to older vehicles for longer," he said.

"That evidence would suggest once again that the Government would do well to clarify its position on diesels and to stimulate people into buying newer, cleaner cars."

Mr Holder added that the sales figures were "not that negative" as it was still the fourth-best March on record.

All new diesels have been subjected to a one-band increase in the first-year vehicle excise duty rate since Sunday.

Plans have also been unveiled to ban the sale of all conventional diesel and petrol cars by 2040.

Justin Benson, head of automotive at auditors KPMG UK, said: "Much like businesses, consumers are currently in the wait-and-see camp, wanting certainty around the economic environment.

"Brexit, concerns over inflation above earnings growth and the Bank of England's hints that they will raise interest rates in the near future are all causing consumers to hold back.

"If you are in the market for a new car, you should drive a hard bargain."

March 2018 best-selling cars in Northern Ireland were:

1 Ford Fiesta

2 Ford Kuga

3 Seat Leon

4 Volkswagen Golf

5 Ford Focus

6 Hyundai Tucson

7 Vauxhall Corsa

8 Volkswagen Polo

9 Kia Sportage

10 Nissan qashqai

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