Sales of new cars fall by 5% in Northern Ireland
New car sales in Northern Ireland are down by over 5% on the same time last year in an indication that consumer confidence here is "stuck in the doldrums," an economist has said.
The report from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said there had been 9,547 new cars sold in January and February, a fall of 5.27% on the first two months of 2018.
And the number of new cars driven off forecourts in February alone had fallen by 3.52% on the year before to hit 3,887 - the poorest February for car sales in eight years.
The Volkwagen Golf was Northern Ireland's most popular car in January and February, with 322 models sold.
The Ford Fiesta was number two over the year so far, while the Hyundai Tucson sold 278, bringing it to number three.
The Golf was also the highest-seller in February in Northern Ireland - but it was followed by the Ford Focus, which sold 123 models, while the Nissan Qashqai was number three.
However, the Ford Fiesta was February's most popular car in England, Scotland and Wales
Northern Ireland was the only devolved nation to see a fall in car sales in February 2019, compared to February 2018. Along with England, it was one of just two nations to see a fall in sales over the year to date compared to January and February in 2018.
Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said the figures suggested that consumer confidence here was "stuck in the doldrums," despite the employment rate reaching a record high of 70.3% at the end of the year.
Mr Ramsey said: "New car sales, traditionally viewed as a key barometer of consumer confidence, have been at best flat or falling in each of the last four years.
"Local showrooms had their quietest February for new car sales in eight years."
He said that car sales had hit a post-recession high of 57,820 over the year to April 2016.
But over the last 12 months, sales were down to 52,002 - which was down around 25% on a high of 68,708 reached in 2007.
He said there were also contrasting fortunes among different brands of car but that overall, consumer confidence was wobbling, even if the housing market was still performing strongly.
"Brexit uncertainty and a gathering economic slowdown are increasingly impacting on business sentiment. In turn, this will adversely affect consumer confidence.
"The one notable area of consumer spending that has been holding up is the local housing market. But it is worth remembering that the average house-buyer is not truly reflective of the typical consumer."
In England, car sales over the year so far were just 1.28% down, compared to Northern Ireland's fall of 5.27%.
And Scottish car sales had soared by 10.91%, while sales in Wales were also up by 1.98%.
And UK-wide, February's car sales were up 1.4% on February 2018.