Northern Ireland new car sales stuck 'and could go into reverse'
New car sales stagnated in Northern Ireland in November for the second month in a row - while the Volkswagen Golf was once again the most popular model, latest industry figures show.
The German car topped the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders' (SMMT) chart of new car sales in the region in November and sat in second place overall this year.
Car sales in the first 11 months of the year were up by 0.3% here, with nearly 200 more motors leaving showrooms, compared to the same period in 2015.
But the November sales figure was stagnant - and its total of 3,130 was just two more vehicles than the same month the year before, the lowest year-on-year uplift seen across any of the four UK regions.
Welsh car dealers saw the biggest boost (5.1%) with an extra 300 cars sold, while English dealers sold an extra 4,500 new cars - an increase of 3%.
In Northern Ireland, the most popular new car last month was the Volkswagen Golf.
Almost 150 of the model were sold here last month - just two more than the second-placed Hyundai Tucson.
Meanwhile, the Ford Fiesta - the year overall's most popular car - slipped back to fourth place in November.
The previous month's car sale figures had marked the worst October for car sales in three years.
Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said things were unlikely to improve in the industry, despite healthy consumer spending in general.
"Northern Ireland's consumers have been enjoying something of a consumer sweet spot for the last two years or so.
"However, this hasn't translated to new car sales, which is the biggest discretionary expenditure item after buying a house," he said.
"Despite the favourable consumer conditions, such as low inflation and interest rates, there were only two more cars sold in November relative to the same period last year.
"New car sales in Northern Ireland have stagnated for the last three years.
"With a marked pick-up in consumer price inflation anticipated next year, household incomes will be squeezed.
"Furthermore, the depreciation in sterling will push up the price of car imports in the New Year. These factors are hardly conducive to a pick-up in new car sales in 2017.
"Indeed, it looks likely that new car sales may find reverse gear next year".
Last month, Northern Ireland BMW and Mini dealer David Prentice (Cars) Ltd entered administration. However, the firm continues to trade, as new company Prentice Portadown Limited has taken over the running of the business. All 65 staff members were transferred over to the new company, along with brands BMW and Mini.
While the SMMT figures are considered an indicator of the health of the market, in Northern Ireland new cars represent just a small part of the motor industry.