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New car sales tumble 20% in a decade in Northern Ireland

By Emma Deighan

New car sales in Northern Ireland have slumped again and 2018 could see the biggest drop in recent years, it has been warned.

A 5.22% decline in new vehicle sales here was recorded over the past year, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said.

That was echoed throughout the UK, where annual sales fell by an average of 4.54%. The hardest hit region was Wales - down 10.26% over the past year.

Despite an overall trend for Ford Fiestas to top best-selling car lists elsewhere in the UK, the significantly pricier Golf was the leader in Northern Ireland during October. It was followed by the Hyundai Tucson, Citroen C3, then the Ford Fiesta.

Last month 153 new Golfs were registered in Northern Ireland, bringing the total number of new Volkswagen Golf sales to 1,798 here over the past year.

In a breakdown of registrations here, the report also showed that figures throughout October compared to the same month last year were down 2.25% - significantly lower than the UK average of 12.14%.

Ulster Bank economist Richard Ramsey described the stark difference between here and the rest of the UK as a "veneer of consumer strength driven by visitors" since the EU referendum.

He said the annual figures better reflect the state of the industry and predicts that 2018 could represent the biggest annual decline in car sales since 2011.

"Northern Ireland retailers have benefited from the tourism boom and a surge in cross-border shoppers, with the latter boosted by the post-EU referendum depreciation in sterling," he said. "However, the underlying picture is somewhat weaker.

"New car sales are a key barometer of consumer confidence and provide a more meaningful indicator of the health of the consumer.

"Inflation has been outpacing wage growth and this is sapping household disposable incomes.

"A significant range of welfare benefits are also in the midst of a multi-year freeze."

He added: "Against this background it is perhaps not surprising that the biggest discretionary spending item after housing - new car sales - are falling."

And next year looks likely to be no better, Mr Ramsey warned.

He stated: "Local new car sales are over 20% below their peak in 2007. This compares with the UK where new car sales, though falling, are still 8% above their pre-recession high.

"[Next year] is also expected to be a challenging year for the local consumer with the cost of living squeeze set to tighten its grip."

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