Northern Ireland car sales get a boost before Christmas but still lag behind rest of UK
The number of cars sold in Northern Ireland in the run-up to Christmas rose by 2.1%, new figures show.
However, overall the number of new motors powering out of showrooms across the province remained largely flat in 2016, rising by just 0.2% on a year earlier - leaving Northern Ireland still in the slow lane.
A total of 57,234 cars were sold here last year. The Ford Fiesta topped the list, selling more than 2,000 vehicles in 2016, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
It seems the Volkswagen emissions scandal did little to hit Northern Ireland's demand for VW hatchbacks.
The Golf model came in at number two, with 1,869 cars sold. Its smaller sibling, the Polo, sold 1,389 vehicles.
Overall, Scotland led the way in sales growth last month. The volume of cars sold increased by 7.4% in December.
Throughout the year, England was in pole position, with a 2.7% surge in sales. Meanwhile, Wales saw sales fall by 1.4%.
According to Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey, the "UK and NI new car markets are going at two different speeds".
"New car sales in the UK completed their fifth successive year of growth with sales up 2.3% in 2016 and by almost 40% over the last five years," he said.
"The Northe rn Ireland new car sales market is stuck in the crawler lane. Indeed new car sales here have been flat since 2014 and remain almost 17% (11,384) below 2007's peak."
Looking ahead, he said that with rising fuel costs and wider inflationary pressures, the "consumer environment is set to get more challenging".
"While sales of non-premium cars have fallen by 2% (since last year), the premium end of the market posted a healthy rise of almost 13%," he added.
Across the UK, some 2.69 million cars were registered in the UK last year, the SMMT said. That is up by 2.3% on 2015. The organisation's chief executive, Mike Hawes, said growth was due to "very strong" consumer confidence, low interest finance packages and a raft of new models.
He said: "People do want to see connectivity. They expect equally to have that connectivity on the move."