Used car deals keeping Northern Ireland's market afloat with new sales rock bottom
Northern Ireland's new car market suffered the biggest slump in sales in the UK in the opening weeks of 2017, new figures show.
But dealers here say strong demand for used cars and cross-border sales have kept the industry in the fast lane.
Car dealers here registered almost 600 fewer new cars in January and February compared to the same point in 2016, according to the latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
The body records the number of new car registrations, which is associated with the number of sales. The industry's new car registrations here dropped 5.4% - the biggest slump of any UK region.
A bad February saw the market fall more than 11% compared to the same point in 2016. But the region wasn't the only one to see a slow-down - Wales was the worst-hit last month, with registrations down more than 15%, but a better January meant its market remained stronger overall for the year so far.
English dealers were the only ones in the UK to see a boost, with new car registrations up 2.9% for the year so far.
However, Stanley Edgar, managing director of SERE Motors, said that while the new car market was changing, used car sales were up.
"We're finding people are carrying out a lot of research before they buy," he said.
"Also, it's virtually impossible to buy a bad car these days so brands are becoming less important - we're finding some of the Korean franchises' sales increasing by up to 30%.
"It used to be that people would buy what their mum or dad drive, but now they are more independent and buying the cars that best suit their needs."
He added: "We are noticing a lot of used car sales to southern Ireland customers because they're getting good value with the exchange rate at the moment. We aren't that worried by the drop in new sales - we've only noticed a small drop in new retail sales but things have been going well in other areas.
"We had a super start to the year with used car sales - up around 20% - and year-on-year our turnover for the first two months of 2017 is sitting up around 15-20%."
Volkswagen Golf was again the most popular new car here, with almost 200 registered last month. Vauxhall Corsa moved from fourth into second in the top 10 with the Hyundai Tucson and Ford Fiesta taking third and fourth place respectively.