Cars sales still in reverse as impact of Covid lockdown bites

September has traditionally been a bumper month for the motor industry
Gary McDonald Business Editor

NEW car registrations in Northern Ireland fell by 2.53 per cent in September from a year earlier, making it one of the worst Septembers in years in what is traditional a bumper month for the motor industry.

Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) showed that were 5,010 new registrations last month - down from 5,140 in September 2019.

And in the year to date, just 28,189 cars have left showrooms in the north - nearly 35 per cent fewer than the 43,129 new sales a this point last year.

In the UK as a whole, the new car market declined 4.4 per cent, with private registrations dipping by 1.1 per cent and demand from business also muted, with around 10,000 fewer cars joining larger fleets, representing a 5.8 per cent decline.

But battery electric and plug-in hybrid car uptake grew substantially to account for more than one in 10 registrations as new models continue to increase consumer choice.

The relaxation of Covid lockdown restrictions from June saw consumers return to showrooms and factories restart production lines, after one of the bleakest periods in the sector’s history.

The market still faces continued pressure, however, with myriad challenges over the next quarter. Brexit uncertainty and the threat of tariffs still concerns the industry, while the shift towards zero emission-capable vehicles is demanding huge investment from the sector, and stalling fleet renewal across all technologies is hampering efforts to meet climate change and air quality targets now.

Additionally, consumer and business confidence is threatened by the forthcoming end of the Government’s furlough scheme, an expected rise in unemployment and continuing restrictions on society as a result of the pandemic.

With little realistic prospect of recovering the 615,000 registrations lost so far in 2020, the sector now expects an overall 30.6 per cent market decline by the end of the year, equivalent to some £21.2 billion in lost sales.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “During a torrid year, the automotive industry has demonstrated incredible resilience, but this is not a recovery.

“Despite the boost of a new registration plate, new model introductions and attractive offers, this is still the poorest September since the two-plate system was introduced in 1999.

“And unless the pandemic is controlled and economy-wide consumer and business confidence rebuilt, the short-term future looks very challenging indeed.”

:: Best selling cars in Northern Ireland in September:

1 Ford Fiesta: 833

2 Ford Focus: 821

3 Hyundai Tuscon: 781

4 Volkswagen Golf: 699

5 Nissan Qashqai: 601

6 Volkswagen Tiguan: 582

7 Volkswagen Polo: 550

8 Ford Kuga: 538

9 Renault Captur: 504

10 Ford Puma: 477

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