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Expert gloomy over Northern Ireland's new car market despite rise in sales

By Emma Deighan

Statistics for new car sales in Northern Ireland during November show a rise of almost 4% on last year, although sales for the year so far remain subdued.

According to the Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the new car market here rose by 3.8%, or 119 cars, last month, with 3,253 new vehicles registered.

The results represented the best November for new car sales in four years.

In Northern Ireland, the top five best-selling new cars for the month of November were the Ford Kuga, Volkswagen Golf, Nissan Qashqai, Citroen C3 and the Volkswagen Tiguan.

The top-selling new cars over the past year here have been the Ford Fiesta, Ford Kuga, Volkswagen Golf, Hyundai Tucson and the Nissan Qashqai.

But figures for the first 11 months of the year showed a drop of over 3% (1,721 cars) - the weakest sales volume in five years, said Ulster Bank economist Richard Ramsey.

"New car sales growth in Northern Ireland stalled in 2015 and 2016, and has gone into reverse since 2017," Mr Ramsey warned.

"During the last two years (January to November), new car sales have fallen by a cumulative 8%. That equates to 4,440 fewer vehicle sales."

Mr Ramsey also stressed that "squeezed incomes" and rising living costs would continue to put pressure on new car sales.

"Consumers' disposable incomes have been squeezed by inflation, and rising food and utility bills are set to see this trend continue into 2019," he said.

"Talk of an end to austerity - as indicated in October's Budget - is premature. With the freeze in most working-age welfare benefits continuing and some welfare benefit cuts still to take effect, the average consumer isn't expected to see a notable improvement in their personal finances in the year ahead.

"Consumer confidence is expected to remain subdued, particularly for large discretionary purchases such as a new car."

While welcoming dips in the price of motor fuel, Mr Ramsey maintained that "driving home this Christmas is still going to be more costly relative to last year".

"Despite falls, petrol is almost 4% higher per litre than last year, with diesel 9% higher," he said.

For the whole of the UK in November, car sales were down by almost 3%, the new SMMT survey revealed.

Scotland experienced the highest growth in new car sales in the UK for the month, up 7.10% on last year.

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