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Reverse in Ulster car sales to hit new low

Car sales in Northern Ireland have dipped over the last month and are expected to fall even further by the end of the year.

New registrations - a reliable indicator of consumer confidence - were down almost 3% in August compared to August 2010 and down 13% in the eight months to the end of August compared to the same period last year. Some 40,240 new cars were registered by this time last year but that figure has fallen to 34,972.

It is also by far the biggest drop compared to other regions in the UK, with the closest year-on-year decline experienced in Wales at almost 12%. Monthly, new registrations in England and Wales are up, by 8% and 10% respectively.

Figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) showed that UK-wide, registrations were up 7% for the month but down 6% year-on-year.

According to calculations made by Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey, Northern Ireland car sales over last year are 30% below the peak period seen back in 2007 and remain just 1.3% or 739 above the low seen in mid-2009.

"Clearly we will see a new low in new car sales in Northern Ireland before the end of 2011. We are now just over 1% above the low of sales over 12 months recorded in June 2009.

"It is interesting to note the price of motoring is now relative to back then.

"Based on official UK average fuel prices released this week, average weekly fuel prices are now around 135p per litre level as opposed to 100-103p or so at the previous low in June 2009.

"The average for UK petrol prices in 2007 was 94.5p per litre at the peak of Northern Ireland's new car sales boom.

"Consumers have responded to the recession and squeeze on their incomes by switching to second hand cars and changing their cars less frequently."

Mr Ramsey has also noted that statistics from the Department of Regional Development dating back to 1988 have shown that the last time Northern Ireland had less than below 48,221 new car sales in a year was 1993 - but since then, the number of eligible drivers has risen by 17%.

He said: "The number of eligible drivers per new car sale is currently 28. This is marginally below the record high of 29 people per new car sale in 1992."