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Northern Ireland car sales buck UK trend but consumer confidence low

Margaret Canning

There were 4,060 new cars sold in Northern Ireland last month, making it the best April for new car sales in three years, according to a report.

And the Ford Kuga was Northern Ireland's most popular model during April, with 162 sold, according to the Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

The Hyundai Tucson was the next most popular car last month, selling 131 vehicles, and the Citroen C3 at number three, with 115 sold.

Overall, new car registrations in the province had risen 3.9% year-on-year - giving Northern Ireland the largest increase in sales of the UK regions.

New car sales had fallen by just over 10% in Wales, while in England, there had been a 4.3% fall.

Scotland, the only other region where sales were up, showed an increase of just 0.74%.

Northern Ireland's growth in car sales bucked the trend in the UK as a whole with a rise of just under 4%.

But Richard Ramsey, chief economist at Ulster Bank, said the picture for Northern Ireland car sales was less rosy when considered across the year so far.

"Last month new car registrations rose by 3.9% year on year, marking the best April for sales in three years," he said.

"Despite the recent pick-up in sales, the number of cars sold during the first four months of the year is 1.8% lower than the corresponding period last year and almost 12% below the corresponding period three years ago.

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey
Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey

"So far, with 20,736 new car sales, 2019 marks the weakest start to a year since 2013 and is some 27% below the peak recorded for the first four months of 2007 (28,372 cars)."

He said that uncertainty over the longevity of diesel cars was hitting demand.

And despite the findings of today's Danske Bank consumer confidence survey, which said confidence was up, Mr Ramsey said people were reluctant to buy big items like cars.

"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," he said.

Across the UK as a whole, there were 160,606 new cars registered in April, the second lowest volume since 2012.

Sales of petrol and diesel models dropped by 3.0% and 9.4% year-on-year respectively last month.

Registrations by private motorists fell last month by 10.3% although fleet demand was stable, with growth of just under 3%.

Alternatively-fuelled vehicles powered by means including electric battery were up 12.7% across the UK as a whole to take a market share of 6.4%.

Manufacturers are investing heavily to bring ultra-low and zero emission cars to market, with some 40 plug-in models now available in showrooms, and over 20 more expected to arrive in 2019.

However, if this still emerging sector is to reach meaningful levels, measures and incentives that build business and consumer confidence will be vital.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: "While it's great to see buyers respond to the growing range of pure electric cars on offer, they still only represent a tiny fraction of the market and are just one of a number of technologies that will help us on the road to zero.

"Industry is working hard to deliver on this shared ambition, providing ever cleaner cars to suit every need.

"We need policies that help get the latest, cleanest vehicles on the road more quickly and support market transition for all drivers.

"This includes investment in infrastructure and long term incentives to make new technologies as affordable as possible."

See page 30: Persistent consumer caution hits retail sales

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