Pre-election jitters blamed for slump in new car sales in Northern Ireland
New car sales in Northern Ireland slumped by 2% last month despite a continued revving up of sales elsewhere in the UK.
There were 7,415 new cars registered in the province in March, according to the Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders, compared to 7,574 in March the year before.
That decrease contrasts with rises of at least 2.5% in all other three UK regions - with sales in England rising by 6.5%.
The Ford Fiesta remains the most popular vehicle in the province, outselling the Vauxhall Corsa at number two by around 70 units a month.
March's fall will come as a disappointment after hopes that a 5% fall in Northern Ireland's car sales in January had been a mere blip - and will cast doubt on the extent of the consumer recovery in Northern Ireland.
However, there had been slight growth of just 2% in February.
It also confounds expectations that low inflation thanks to falling food and oil prices would result in a consumer spending boom.
Last year had seen the strongest car sales figures in Northern Ireland since 2007 - and March last year had seen the best car sales for that month in six years.
Economist John Simpson said the increase in car sales last year may have been due to the release of pent-up demand.
"There will have been a delay factor with car sales being held up during the recession, with people deciding to hold on rather than buy new cars," he said.
"There was some release of that but that doesn't mean car sales will keep going up."
He added: "The economy recovery this year may be much slower than originally thought, with people taking a much more cautious attitude."
Business advisers PwC have forecast growth of 1.7% this year for Northern Ireland, while Danske Bank forecasts expansion of 2.2%.
Mr Simpson said the public sector redundancy scheme - which aims to slim down the workforce by 20,000 - would also have an impact on big-ticket purchases.
"You may see a few thousand people taken out of the market as they adjust their personal circumstances," he said.
Prospective buyers could also be holding tight due to the uncertainty around the general election.
A recovery in new car sales had been judged as the first economic signal of the beginning of Northern Ireland's economic recovery.
Between February 2013 and July 2014, there were 18 months in a row of year on year growth, in which the province recouped 43% of the decline in new car sales from 2007 to 2012. However, since the beginning of this year, England, Scotland and Wales have been reporting higher levels of car sales than before the recession.
The top 10 new car registrations in Northern Ireland in the year to date, and numbers sold are:
• Ford Fiesta: 850
• Volkswagen Golf: 590
• Ford Focus: 584
• Volkswagen Polo: 551
• Vauxhall Corsa: 538
• Renault Clio: 401
• Vauxhall Mokka: 379
• Nissan Qashqai:368
• Ford Kuga: 338
• Hyundai IX35: 327