Northern Ireland car sales slump to weakest opening quarter in six years
New car sales in Northern Ireland have hit a six-year low for the first quarter.
Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) showed car sales experienced a 3% decline in the first three months of 2019, selling 524 fewer new cars than the same period last year.
However, there was a marginal increase in the sale of new cars up to 7,129 (0.1%) during March.
The SMMT data revealed that the most popular new car in Northern Ireland during March was the Citroen C3, with 296 sold, supplanting the regular table toppers, Ford's Fiesta (236) and Volkswagen's Golf (210). Citroen's C4 Cactus also performed well selling 213 cars.
Ulster Bank's chief economist Richard Ramsey said the longer term view offered a much bleaker picture for the Northern Ireland car retail industry.
"Following the 9% year-on-year fall in sales in the first quarter of 2018, Northern Ireland new car sales have dropped by 12% in two years," he said.
"Indeed, sales volumes in the latest period represented the weakest quarter in six years.
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"England, Scotland and Wales also posted year-on-year declines, with the UK posting its worst first quarter performance in five years.
"Northern Ireland's new car sales volumes on an annual basis remain almost 25% below their 2007 peak," he added. "By comparison new car sales in the UK are just 2% below 2007 levels.
The economist said that confusion with the longevity of diesel cars is a big factor impacting the demand for new cars.
However, Mr Ramsey said that consumer confidence, or rather the lack of it, cannot be discounted.
"Looking ahead, 2019 is expected to see the trend in falling new car sales continue," he said.
"Despite an easing in inflationary pressures and wage growth exceeding the rate of inflation, the improvements in consumers' disposable incomes are marginal.
"Consumer confidence remains in short supply and will continue to weigh on big-ticket discretionary purchases in 2019."
The latest monthly snapshot of new car registrations showed a much more pronounced decline in other parts of the UK compared to Northern Ireland during March.
Scotland saw the biggest year-on-year drop last month (-9.4%), while England (-2.9%) and Wales (-3.4%) also both recorded declines.
UK diesel registrations fell 21.4%, while demand for new petrol cars grew by 5.1% in March.
Demand for alternatively fuelled vehicles increased 7.6% to 25,302, the largest on record for March.
As a whole, 699,554 new cars were registered in the UK during the first quarter of 2019, 17,532 less than in 2018.