New car sales still well below pre-covid levels, latest industry data shows

The SMMT said it may take a number of weeks for the reopening of car showrooms to be reflected in sales data. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Ryan McAleer

DESPITE a massive bounce back from the catastrophe of the first lockdown, sales of new cars in the north remain well below pre-covid levels, the latest industry data shows.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said 3,295 new cars were registered in Northern Ireland during April. It compared to just 24 recorded during the entire month of April 2020.

While that represented a near 14,000 per cent year-on-year improvement, it masks the ongoing struggle in new car showrooms across the north.

April 2021 was the second worst on record for the industry, with sales 19 per cent down on the performance of April 2019.

It meant just 12,894 new cars were sold in Northern Ireland during the first four months of the year, putting the industry nearly 8,000 cars (-38 per cent) behind where it stood at the same point in 2019.

Car dealers have largely relied on online and click and collect sales during 2021.

Restrictions eased on April 12 when outdoor retail reopened for dealerships. Constraints on indoor non-essential retail remained in place until April 30.

The SMMT said the full impact of dealerships being allowed to reopen may not be fully reflected for a period as there is often a delay of several weeks between a customer visiting a showroom, deciding on a model and taking delivery of their new vehicle.

Nevertheless, Ulster Bank's chief economist Richard Ramsey said the data reflects a reticence among consumers when it comes to the big purchases.

“While lockdowns have led to an estimated £3.7 billion of additional or forced savings amongst Northern Ireland's consumers, there is no sign yet that consumers are rushing in sufficient numbers to splash their surplus cash on a new set of wheels.

“Now that lockdown restrictions have been lifted for car showrooms, May might see a more encouraging set of sales figures. Until then we should prepare for some more crazy growth rates.”

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