Buyers drive up new car sales to boost confidence
One of the most accurate measures of buyer confidence showed Northern Ireland's consumers were in a slightly better mood last month.
New car sales climbed by 1% to 6,400 in March, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said, going against the downward trend of the last few months and showing a more positive approach to purchasing big ticket items.
In the absence of a separate consumer confidence survey for Northern Ireland, economists use new car sales as a confidence indicator.
Still, Northern Ireland still has some way to go to catch the other UK regions with new car sales in England climbing 1.5% to 316,602, in Wales up 2.9% to 14,027 and in Scotland 6.3% to 34,782.
Across the UK as a whole, there were 372,835 new registrations in March 2012 - a 1.8% rise on the March 2011 total.
Last month's figure took the total for the year so far to 563,556 - a 0.9% rise on the January-March 2011 total.
The March 2012 figures were further boosted by private sales rising 7.4% - one of the best monthly increases in the past two years.
This was the third successive month of growth for UK new-car sales, with the March 2012 figure being around 6% higher than forecastes from the motor industry.
But last month's figure was still around 17% lower than the pre-recession March 2007 total.
SMMT chief executive Paul Everitt said: "The important March new-car market performed above expectations.
"Domestic demand for new cars is showing signs of recovery, with private buyers increasingly returning to take advantage of a wide range of excellent products and, this month, the new 12-plate."
Diesel sales were up 4.7% last month and alternatively-fuelled vehicle sales rose 5.6%, but still account for only 1.5% of the overall market.
Economists said the uplift in new car sales in Northern Ireland shows confidence is improving and should bode well for both car and other retailers in the months ahead.
But they warned that impending public sector job cuts and still-tight credit market continue to drag on the economy and may temper growth.
These were the top-selling models in the UK in March 2012:
1. Ford Fiesta
2. Vauxhall Corsa
3. Ford Focus
4. Volkswagen Golf
5. Vauxhall Astra
6. Nissan Qashqai
7. Volkswagen Polo
8. Toyota Yaris
9. Peugeot 207
10. BMW 3 Series