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Best selling cars in Northern Ireland - close your eyes Jeremy Clarkson there are three Vauxhalls in list

Northern Ireland drivers are eschewing BMWs and spacious people-carriers and plumping for economical runarounds, writes Clare Weir.

In yet another sign that the economy is on the mend, new car sales in August rose by almost 20% to reach a five-year high.

Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders also show that the small, economical Ford Focus and Ford Fiesta have been consistently topping the popularity stakes month after month.

The statistics show that Northern Ireland buyers favour practical small cars and small family hatchbacks – as well as 'aspirational' crossover vehicles which appear to be big offroaders, but are often actually two-wheel drive look-a-likes.

The Renault Megane – which topped the list this month back in 2007 – before the financial downturn – has dropped off the list, as has the BMW 3 Series, which was at number nine. The Vauxhall Zafira people-carrier at number 10, has also vanished from the list.

The Vauxhall Astra and Clio and the Volkswagen Golf remain popular six years later and are still in the top 10.

Richard Ramsey, chief economist with Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland, said that while sales are recovering, there is a long way to go before levels return to the 2007 pre-crash peak.

"Last month's figures represented the best August for new car sales in five years," he said.

"Incidentally, in August 2007, the month that the credit crunch officially began, Northern Ireland's car retailers reported 5,277 new car sales. This is still one-third above last month's new car sales.

"Clearly Northern Ireland's new car sales are pointing to a recovery which is to be welcomed. But Northern Ireland has still a long way to go to get back to 2007 levels.

"That said, the 2007 figures can be viewed as artificially high due to, for example, equity withdrawal from an overheated property market.

"Since the downturn, Northern Ireland's new car sales fell by almost one third.

"A recovery in new car sales has been in train since the middle of last year. The number of new car sales in the 12 months to August was still almost 25% below 2007 levels.

"As with the wider economic recovery as a whole, Northern Ireland's rebound, as far as new car sales are concerned, remains weaker than in other parts of the UK.

Mr Ramsey added: "It is noted that new car sales in the UK over the last 12 months to August are less than 10% below its pre-downturn peak. In Scotland the equivalent figure is less than 3%.

"It is also important to note that the type and brand of cars purchased reflects a significant change in consumer behaviours that are not evident in the headline sales figures."

Motoring journalist Jim McCauley said that significant gains can also be seen in the value brands like Kia, Hyundai and Skoda.

He added that people are also gravitating towards cars that look like 4x4s – but aren't.

"We see the Nissan Qashqai and Juke on the list and the Kia Sportage," he said.

"These now come in much cheaper two-wheel drive models. They are aspirational vehicles. They look like four-wheel drives, but they are often not. People want a bigger car, a bigger body, but they also want economy and they are never in all likelihood going to do any offroading.

"Two-wheel drive crossovers are cheaper," said Mr McCauley.

Colin McNab, operations director at Charles Hurst Group, Northern Ireland's biggest car dealer, said that confidence is rising.

"In the last five years customer tastes have changed considerably. In line with rising energy costs, fuel economy has become increasingly important and this is often seen as a top priority.

"Car makers such as Nissan, Kia and Hyundai are also big-selling models for us because of their enhanced fuel economy, style and reliability.

"However, against this renewed confidence among buyers, we are also experiencing an uplift in demand and interest for higher-end, luxury models," he said.

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