Click and collect worked for car dealerships in March says SMMT

The Hyundai Tucson was the top-selling car in Northern Ireland in March, according to SMMT figures
The Hyundai Tucson was the top-selling car in Northern Ireland in March, according to SMMT figures

THE click-and-collect method of purchase has been working for dealerships as demand for new cars soared in Northern Ireland compared with March 2020.

Some 4,618 new cars were registered in the region last month, despite showrooms remaining shut due to coronavirus restrictions, latest Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) figures show.

That's close to 50 per cent more than February, when 3,129 newly-registered vehicles left showrooms across the north.

But in the year to date, figures are still more than 18 per cent where they were this time last year, with 9,599 sales compared to 11,717 at the end of March 2020, when the pandemic had just hit.

In the UK as a whole, the year-on-year increase was 36.9 per cent down on the average March total between 2010 and 2019.

Industry turnover between January and March was down £1.8 billion compared with the same period in 2020.

March is traditionally a strong month for car sales, but the SMMT said 8,300 registrations a day are needed for the industry to return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year.

The organisation's chief executive, Mike Hawes, said: "The past year has been the toughest in modern history and the automotive sector has, like many others, been hit hard.

"However, with showrooms set to reopen, there is optimism that consumer confidence - and hence the market - will return.

"We know we will see record-breaking growth next month given April 2020 was a washout, but a strong and sustainable market is possible if customers are attracted to the choice and competitive offer the industry is able to provide within the safest of showroom environments.

"New plug-in models are already helping drive a recovery but to convince more retail consumers to make the switch they must be assured these new technologies will be convenient for their driving needs, and that means, above all, that the charging infrastructure is there where they need it, and when they need it."

Alex Buttle, director of used car marketplace, said: “Although these positive figures will be a welcome relief after some disappointing numbers in January and February, enthusiasm needs to be tempered a little.

"March 2020 saw the UK plunged into lockdown for the first time when car showrooms were forced to shut their doors and sales fell accordingly. Many dealers adjusted to the new normal by offering a fully online experience from then onwards.

“Showrooms opening can’t happen soon enough for the new car industry to take off, especially with EV purchases showing real traction for growth in 2021.

“Although dealerships were able to seamlessly switch back to offering a fully online buying experience when the country went into lockdown for the third time at the beginning of January, new car sales have been breaking records for all the wrong reasons this year.

“The UK new car industry needs a prolonged period of positive news to shake off its malaise. New car sales need a mighty boost to rise out of the doldrums, but a spring and summer of solid sales should really turn things around.

“With Brexit firmly in the rear view mirror, and lockdown now easing at a healthy pace, there are genuine signs for optimism about the future.

“Forecourts definitely turbo-charge the buying experience for most car buyers, but the behavioural shift from browsing at showrooms, to searching and purchasing over the internet will also continue, and most likely accelerate, long after the pandemic is over. We can therefore expect online sales to continue booming in the near-term, especially for used vehicles.”

The top-selling marques in Northern Ireland in March were:

1 Hyundai Tucson

2 Nissan qashqai

3 Toyota Yaris

4 Ford Fiesta

5 Ford Kuga

6 Volkswagen Tiguan

7 Volkswagen T-roc

8 Toyota CHR

9 Volkswagen Golf

10 Nissan Juke