Car sales in Northern Ireland rev up 6% during May
Ford Focus out in front as favourite new model
New car sales in Northern Ireland went up 6% last month, according to the latest industry figures.
While sales for 2018 to date still lag behind the first five months of 2017, the local market was the second fastest grower in the UK in May.
A total of 192,136 new cars left showrooms across the UK during May, according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), an increase of 3.4%.
In Northern Ireland there were 4,384 new cars registered. In the year so far, there have been 25,491 cars sold here, a fall of 3.4% on this time last year.
Bucking the trend from England and Scotland, where the Ford Fiesta remains the firm favourite as the most popular model for May, Northern Ireland consumers favoured the slightly bulkier Ford Focus and Kuga models.
Simon Short of Co Armagh Ford specialist Ballylisk Car Sales suggested that the planned introduction of a new Ford Focus later this year meant buyers were being offered more attractive offers on the existing model.
"There are personal contract purchase (PCP) deals out there, which has probably generated a lot of this. They are putting very good finance packages together for the market," said the Tandragee-based dealer.
PCP deals offer a loan-like finance package for drivers. But unlike loans, you don't pay off the full value of the car and you won't own it at the end of the deal unless you pay a lump sum.
Mr Short said there was a definite move toward bigger cars and SUVs among motorists in the province.
"There has been a big shift to the SUVs. Everyone is looking to sit up a bit higher," he explained.
"If you look to any of the manufacturers, they're all going towards cross-over type vehicles."
Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said while the latest figures compare favourably month-on-month with last year, sales during May 2017 had been particularly poor.
A comparison with the month of May during 2014-16 paint a gloomier picture, he added.
"The new car sales market remains subdued with new registrations down 3.4% year-to-date. Close to 25,500 new cars were sold in the first five months of 2018. That's the lowest volume of sales since 2013 (24,350) and one-quarter below 2007's peak (34,121) for the period January-May," he said.
He added that 2014 was the last year Northern Ireland posted a meaningful increase in new car sales, with 2018 looking set to be another year of falling sales with volumes set to hit a five-year low.
He said: "However, this headline conceals winners and losers by brand, model and fuel type. With petrol and diesel prices posting their largest monthly rise last month in 18 years, motorists are likely to become increasingly more sensitive to running costs.
"The so-called cost of living crisis heralded a new era of smaller SUVs and micro cars.
"With the cost of filling up the average family car approaching £80, we can expect an increasing number of new cars on our streets to be of the smaller variety and electric models."
According to the RAC, the price of petrol at the pumps rocketed by a "hellish" 6p a litre in May - the worst monthly rise for 18 years.
Unleaded shot up from 123.43p to 129.41p a litre, putting the cost of filling up a 55-litre family car at £71.18. The increase equalled £3.29 in just one month, data from RAC Fuel Watch showed. The average price of diesel saw a slightly greater monthly increase of 6.12p per litre, from 126.27p to 132.39p.