The smell of new upholstery — that ‘new car smell’ — is fast becoming a distant memory for many drivers here as the number of vehicles being sold fresh from the factory has fallen again.
A total of 3,344 new cars were being driven on our roads last month, a figure which might sound impressive but is more than 2,000 down compared to the same period in 2007, just before the downturn in the economy started.
Because a car is a so-called “big ticket” item, economists say the decline is a sign of falling confidence among consumers — as well as the fact we’re all faced with dwindling spare cash to spend.
Still, our dealers managed to sell more cars in August than those across the border where only 3,098 new keys were handed out.
Those who have been lucky enough to be able to afford to buy a new car in Northern Ireland have also been opting for cheaper, more basic models.
The venerable Ford Fiesta holds onto the top spot with nearly 1,700 cars shifted last month while its bigger sibling the Focus comes in at number two.
The Fiesta has been around for more than three decades and is a firm favourite here.
While not as easy on the pocket, its big brother, the Focus, is highly rated for its performance.
After the two top Fords, the two Vs — Vauxhalls and Volkswagens — dominate, but it’s further down the Top 10 list that some interesting developments emerge.
At number seven the Nissan Qashqai may seem like a rather grand machine for such straitened times but experts say its popularity has been boosted by favourable payment terms.
Meanwhile, the appearance of a Kia and Hyundai in the top 10 most popular new cars here shows consumers are keeping a very wary eye on their pennies.
Richard Ramsey, the chief economist at Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland, said the local driver’s eye for value is likely to continue in the foreseeable future.
“These brands are expected to account for an increasing share of new car sales in the months and years ahead,” he said.
“In the same way that our high streets are changing with the arrival of new lower branded retailers, the same can be said with the traffic on our roads.”