Car sales plunge to seven year low - and may continue in reverse

Sales of new cars fell to a seven-year low in Northern Ireland last year, according to the SMMT
Gary McDonald Business Editor

SALES of new cars in Northern Ireland slumped to a seven-year low in 2019, latest automotive industry figures show.

Trade body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said 51,512 cars were registered in the north in the last 12 months, the third consecutive year of decline and the lowest annual total since 2012.

The reverse was attributed to a number of factors including weak consumer confidence and "confusion" over how diesel cars will be treated when clean air zones are introduced in the near future.

It means new motor sales in the north are down just under two per cent in the year but by 10 per cent cumulatively over the last three years (which equates to around 6,000 cars).

And it comes despite it being a record year for the labour market, where employment has never been higher and unemployment has never been lower.

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said: "Given labour market conditions, one would assume consumer confidence must be strong too? But not so.

"Previously having a job, or not having one, was a key determinant of whether a household or individual was in poverty. But over the last decade a sustained period of below-inflation wage growth and cuts to working-age welfare benefits has squeezed disposable incomes for those in work too.

"New car sales have traditionally been a barometer of consumer confidence, but these figures signal consumer stress or at least concern, and 2019 has been a year to forget for many UK and Northern Ireland car dealers, with showrooms seeing new registrations fall to six and seven year lows respectively.

"Despite local dealers posting their best December for sales in five years (up 21 per cent year on year), it wasn't enough to prevent an overall decline for the year as a whole."

Mr Ramsey added: "Unlike the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland new car sales have never recovered from the last recession, with sales volumes here being flat or falling for the last five years.

"Indeed the total number of new cars sold in 2019 is 1.3 per cent lower than the figure a decade ago, and the total number of cars sold last year is 25 per cent below 2007's pre-recession high. In comparison, the volume of new car sales in the UK is less than four per cent below 2007's levels.

"With economic conditions deteriorating markedly in recent months, the outlook for consumer-sensitive sectors is set to weaken further, and 2020 could see new car sales fall below the 50,000 mark for the first time since 2012."

:: Recent new car registrations in Northern Ireland:

2019: 51,512

2018: 52,533

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 10 selling models in Northern Ireland in 2019:

1 Ford Fiesta 1,564

2 Volkswagen Golf 1,462

3 Ford Kuga 1,385

4 Hyundai Tucson 1,313

5 Nissan Qashqai 1,311

6 Ford Focus 1,186

7 Volkswagen Tiguan 1,048

8 Citroen C3 935

9 Ford Ecosport 881

10 Volkswagen Polo 843

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