New car sales drop 3.35% in 2018 as con­sumer con­fi­dence buf­feted

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - News - BY EMMA DEIGHAN

NEW car sales in North­ern Ire­land fell by al­most 3.4% over the past year due a “per­fect storm” of is­sues fac­ing mo­torists.

And the de­cline is set to con­tinue dur­ing 2019, ac­cord­ing to an ex­pert.

Ul­ster Bank chief econ­o­mist Richard Ram­sey said car deal­ers here ended 2018 with “sub­dued sales vol­umes” as 52,533 new cars were sold, down 3.35% from 2017’s sales fig­ure of 54,356.

And ac­cord­ing to the So­ci­ety of Mo­tor Man­u­fac­tur­ers and Traders (SMMT), which com­piles the new car sales fig­ures, the UK as a whole suf­fered a drop of 7% in sales in 2018, while a fur­ther drop of 2% is ex­pected this year.

The trade body de­scribed 2018 as a “highly tur­bu­lent” one for the sec­tor but also in­sisted sales were “on a par” with the av­er­age over the past 10 to 15 years.

How­ever, Mr Ram­sey said any growth in NI sales over the past decade was not suf­fi­cient to bring the mar­ket back to pre-re­ces­sion lev­els, un­like in Bri­tain.

He said: “Over­all, 2018 saw just over 52,500 new cars sold, some 1,800 fewer than in 2017. Last year’s de­cline took sales vol­umes down to a five-year-low. UK new car sales also hit a five-year-low.

“How­ever, un­like in North­ern Ire­land, UK car sales re­cov­ered from the re­ces­sion with sales vol­umes ex­ceed­ing pre-re­ces­sion lev­els and hit­ting a record high in 2016.

“Con­versely, the North­ern Ire­land re­cov­ery has been much more muted. Sales last year were some 24% be­low 2007’s peak. That equates to 16,175 fewer new cars sold. New car sales growth stalled in 2015 and 2016 and went into re­verse since 2017.

“Dur­ing the last two years new car sales have fallen by over 8%. That rep­re­sents 4,791 fewer ve­hi­cle sales.”

The De­cem­ber 2018 fig­ures for lo­cal car sales were no bet­ter than the year as a whole. Dur­ing De­cem­ber there were 1,698 new cars sold, down 5.67%.

Last year’s top five best-sellers here were the Ford Fiesta, Ford Kuga, Volk­swa­gen Golf, Hyundai Tus­can and Nis­san Qashqai.

Look­ing ahead, Mr Ram­sey said: “De­spite an eas­ing in in- fla­tion­ary pres­sures and wage growth ex­ceed­ing the rate of in­fla­tion, the im­prove­ments in con­sumers’ dis­pos­able in­comes are mar­ginal.

“Con­sumer con­fi­dence re­mains in short sup­ply and will con­tinue to weigh on big-ticket dis­cre­tionary pur­chases in 2019.”

SMMT chief ex­ec­u­tive Mike Hawes said a Uk-wide drop in sales was due to Brexit fears, fall­ing con­sumer con­fi­dence and a “sense of un­cer­tainty” on how diesel cars will be taxed and treated.

And he said the im­ple­men­ta­tion of a new EU emis­sions test­ing pro­ce­dure in Septem­ber had led to a sup­ply shortage of low-emis­sion and hy­brid cars.

Mr Hawes also said the Gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to slash grants for new low-emis­sion cars in Oc­to­ber “doesn’t re­ally send the sign to the con­sumer that these are the right ve­hi­cles to be bought”.

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