Belfast Telegraph

New car sales plummet in 'gloomiest year on record' for NI industry

An Ulster bank economist said the car industry is unlikely to pick up in the short term (Andrew Matthews/PA)
An Ulster bank economist said the car industry is unlikely to pick up in the short term (Andrew Matthews/PA)
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

New car sales in Northern Ireland plummeted by nearly 17% last month, according to a report.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said there had been 3,168 new cars sold during the month, compared to 3,810 in October 2018.

And the decline of 17% on the year before compared to a UK average drop of 7% year on year.

It was also the weakest October for Northern Ireland car sales for seven years, according to Ulster Bank economist Richard Ramsey. 

Over the year to date, there have been 46297 new cars sold, 2.7% below the tally this time last year.

The Ford Kuga was the most popular car in Northern Ireland during October, with 116 sold, while its sister model the Fiesta was the second-best selling, with 92 sold.

But the Ford Fiesta was the most popular new car here over the year so far, with 1,468 sold. 

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The Kuga was in third place over the year so far, with the Volkswagen Golf at number two.

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Mr Ramsey said that in combination with other economic indicators, the falling figures for car sales pointed to a continued drop in consumer confidence.

He said that the bank’s key PMI business survey for September had highlighted notable falls in retail sales activity.

And last week, the commercial property market survey by Ulster Bank and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) said that demand for retail property was at its weakest in 11 years.

He said things were unlikely to improve in the short-term.

“With economic conditions deteriorating markedly in recent months the outlook for consumer sensitive sectors is set to weaken too.

“2020 could well see new car sales fall below the 50,000 mark for the first time since 2012.”

He said that 2019 was already shaping up to be the fourth year out of the last five in which new car sales had fallen. 

“During the 12 months to October 2019 there were 51,248 new cars sold.  This is some 6,500 (11%) fewer than the recent high in mid-2016 and 25% below the pre-downturn high of 2007.”

At just under 17%, Northern Ireland had the steepest fall in car sales during October of any UK nation.  However, Scotland was not far behind, with a fall of 16.2%.

Car sales in Wales were down 13.6% during the month, while England had the lowest percentage fall at 5.35%. 

Graeme Maclaughlin, relationship director at Barclays Corporate Banking, said October had been “another disappointing month for the new car industry”.  He said it was unsurprising that consumers were waiting to see how the economic and political picture develops before making big purchases.

Alex Buttle, director of car selling comparison website Motorway.co.uk, said: “The UK car industry will surely look back at 2019 as one of its gloomiest on record.  It’s unlikely new car sales are going to pick up materially before the end of the year, with consumers also now having a General Election to get their heads around.

“All the market can hope for is that the perceived disaster of a no-deal (Brexit) has been averted.”

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