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First quarter car sales 'buoyant'

The number of cars registered in Northern Ireland rose by 15% in the first quarter of this year compared with the same period a year ago, new statistics show.

Data released by the Department for Regional Development showed that in the first three months of 2010 a total of 24,325 new vehicles were registered for the first time in the province, up from 21,069 a year earlier.

During the quarter, 19,769 new cars were registered, an increase of 23% on the same period one year earlier and more than double the previous quarter's figure of 9,515.

Although the latest figures show an improvement between the first quarter and the same period in 2009, the numbers of both new car and all vehicle registrations remain below the 10 year historical average for the first part of the year.

Commenting on the figures, Northern Bank chief Economist Angela McGowan said: "New car registrations in Northern Ireland in the first quarter of this year increased by 23.2% on the equivalent period one year earlier but were down 12.3% when compared with the 10 year historical average for this time of the year.

"The car industry should nonetheless be pleased with sales in the first quarter of 2010, which were relatively buoyant considering the tough economic climate. Government support with the car scrappage scheme has undoubtedly helped the industry but there also appears to have been an element of pent-up consumer demand that came through for the car industry in the early part of the year.

"Sustainability of that consumer demand will be a key challenge for this sector in the months ahead as government support has now disappeared and we saw overall consumer confidence take a bit of a battering at the end of the first quarter."

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The latest transport figures also show that despite relatively high petrol prices, the number of public transport journeys taken with Ulsterbus and Metro fell by 3.6% relative to one year ago, although the number of rail passenger journeys in Northern Ireland remained static at 2.49 million.