New car sales drop 3.35% in Northern Ireland as consumer confidence buffeted
New car sales in Northern Ireland fell by almost 3.4% over the past year due a "perfect storm" of issues facing motorists.
And the decline is set to continue during 2019, according to an expert.
Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said car dealers here ended 2018 with "subdued sales volumes" as 52,533 new cars were sold, down 3.35% from 2017's sales figure of 54,356.
And according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), which compiles the new car sales figures, the UK as a whole suffered a drop of 7% in sales in 2018, while a further drop of 2% is expected this year.
The trade body described 2018 as a "highly turbulent" one for the sector but also insisted sales were "on a par" with the average over the past 10 to 15 years.
However, Mr Ramsey said any growth in NI sales over the past decade was not sufficient to bring the market back to pre-recession levels, unlike in Britain.
He said: "Overall, 2018 saw just over 52,500 new cars sold, some 1,800 fewer than in 2017. Last year's decline took sales volumes down to a five-year-low. UK new car sales also hit a five-year-low.
"However, unlike in Northern Ireland, UK car sales recovered from the recession with sales volumes exceeding pre-recession levels and hitting a record high in 2016.
"Conversely, the Northern Ireland recovery has been much more muted. Sales last year were some 24% below 2007's peak. That equates to 16,175 fewer new cars sold. New car sales growth stalled in 2015 and 2016 and went into reverse since 2017.
"During the last two years new car sales have fallen by over 8%. That represents 4,791 fewer vehicle sales."
The December 2018 figures for local car sales were no better than the year as a whole. During December there were 1,698 new cars sold, down 5.67%.
Last year's top five best-sellers here were the Ford Fiesta, Ford Kuga, Volkswagen Golf, Hyundai Tuscan and Nissan Qashqai.
Looking ahead, Mr Ramsey 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."
SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said a UK-wide drop in sales was due to Brexit fears, falling consumer confidence and a "sense of uncertainty" on how diesel cars will be taxed and treated.
And he said the implementation of a new EU emissions testing procedure in September had led to a supply shortage of low-emission and hybrid cars.
Mr Hawes also said the Government's decision to slash grants for new low-emission cars in October "doesn't really send the sign to the consumer that these are the right vehicles to be bought".