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January brings worst-ever start to any year for NI new car sales


Volkswagen Golf

Volkswagen Golf

Volkswagen Golf

The Northern Ireland motor trade has had its worst-ever start to a year with a 54% slump in new cars sold last month.

Dealerships here were limited to online purchases only during January following a new lockdown from December.

Just 2,324 new cars were registered here compared to 5,030 in January 2020, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

It was the worst performance for any UK region, with Wales suffering a 49% slump as the second-worst nation for car sales.

January also marked the worst month for new car registrations in Northern Ireland since SMMT's records began in 1996.

Volkswagen's Golf was the most popular new car here, with 91 sold, with the Volkswagen Tiguan, Kia Sportage and Nissan Qashqai tying for second place with 71 sold each.

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said: "Once again lockdown restrictions, which largely limited showrooms to a click and collect service, significantly impacted on sales. Northern Ireland's decline compared with a 40% year on year fall across the UK which marked the worst January since 1970."

It is now six years since car sales here had significantly increased - a trend which would hit the second-hand market.

He added: "The fall in new car sales over the last few years, and particularly last year, will reduce the supply of vehicles into the used car market. 2014 was the last year that NI posted a meaningful increase in new car sales with registrations down 37% since then. It remains to be seen whether the new car sales market can reverse its recent decline in 2021 and climb the priority spending list for consumers."

Karen Johnson, head of retail and wholesale at Barclays Corporate Banking, said selling online had not been enough to halt the drop in new registrations.

"Lessons learned from the first lockdown have seen traders bolstering their e-commerce propositions to meet the changing purchasing habits of the consumer, selling cars via delivery and on a 'click and collect' basis, but their valiant efforts fell short last month.

"As well as a desire to see forecourts reopening sooner rather than later as we move further into 2021, sellers will also be looking to those consumers who have built up savings during the pandemic to start committing again to big ticket purchases like a new car.

"Although the industry is still producing high quality vehicles and is doing its best to stimulate demand with attractive financing deals, concerns still abound re the infrastructure needed to support different fuel types."

Ms Johnson said more charge points were needed for a rise in sales of alternatively-fuelled cars.

She added: "Consumer demand for the next generation of vehicles with low or zero emissions is undoubtedly muted due to the underlying caution around the well-publicised roll out of charging points - particularly in rural areas.

"Northern Ireland has the lowest number of charging points per capita than any other region in the UK, so it is clear more must be done if sales are to gather pace in the next few years."

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said it was a bad start to the year for the industry, which lost £20.4bn in sales last year.

He added: "The necessary lockdown will challenge society, the economy and our industry's ability to move quickly towards our ambitious environmental goals."

Belfast Telegraph