Belfast Telegraph

New car sales plunge in Northern Ireland - from BMW to Ford

Dramatic slump underlines bleak consumer mood

By David Elliott

The number of new cars being sold in Northern Ireland has collapsed by a third in just five years.

One of the most obvious indicators of the decline in Northern Ireland's economic fortunes can be found on our roads.

The number of new cars sold here was just over 47,000 last year, according to data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) compiled by Ulster Bank economist Richard Ramsey – a staggering 21,000 fewer than 2007.

As an indicator into the confidence of the average consumer, it's obvious: if you're feeling confident about finances you'll be more likely to buy a new car, while if you're a bit wary about your economic future you'll probably hang on to your wheels longer.

"The fall in new car registrations in Northern Ireland during this period reflects the wider economic impact of the recession, which affected all nations across Europe," an SMMT spokesman said. "While Britain saw solid growth across the new car market in 2012, new car registrations in Northern Ireland remained flat, up just 0.6% – a sign of continuing low consumer confidence and challenges facing the economy."

It's not just the number of new cars which has altered in the last five years; the types of new cars we're buying has also changed.

The most popular models remain Ford, Vauxhall and Volkswagen, but more prominent are Nissan, which climbed six places to number four. Hyundai jumped seven places to number six and Kia 10 places to number 11.

They took the place of Toyota which fell four places to number nine, while French car manufacturer Reanult fell nine to 12.

Mr Ramsey, who compiled the information, reckons that new car sales data is the most accurate reflection of the mood of consumers.

"The new car sales figures show how consumers are adapting to the downturn and the new reality of falling real disposable incomes and rising consumer prices," he said.

"Households are now questioning their spending when it comes to value for money and we're seeing the rise of the frugal consumer; the change in brand choice is another sign of this." Car manufacturers are all too aware of the growing edge which their competitiors pose.

In the UK, Nissan, Kia and Hyundai now account for 11% of all new cars sold, a figure which has soared from 4% back in 2007.

Jim Humphreys, regional manager of car leasing firm Ogilvie Fleet, said the growing demand for small cars is helping the brands which have blossomed during the downturn.

"Demand is also increasingly strong for smaller cars as people downsize both as a result of cost and as a result of wanting to lower CO2 emissions, both of which are linked. These manufacturers concentrate on this sector and thus, as a result of them also being great designs these days, it's a win-win for them," he said.

Pat Burns, editor of magazine CarSport, agreed. He said: "Small cars are more popular now than ever, with many people downsizing their vehicle to save on fuel, insurance and road tax.

"The cost of a full tank of fuel every week is now a large expenditure and the car buying public is aware of the importance of good fuel consumption."

The picture in the Republic is even worse. New car sales are sitting around 58% below the 2007 level when around 185,000 left the showroom, compared to a 31% fall in Northern Ireland.

Some 80,000 were sold in the Republic in 2012, and only 60,000 in 2009 – again reflective of the mood of consumers given the impact of the EU debt crisis in the Republic.

In terms of our own consumer confidence, new car sales will continue to provide the best reflection of how we feel about finances.


  • Northern Ireland’s 31% drop in new car sales since 2007 is just below EU average.
  • New car sales in the Republic are still 58% below the peak of the property market bubble in 2007 and only slightly better in Spain, reflecting the well-known economy woes of each region.
  • The market for new cars in Greece is nearly 80% down on 2007 levels.
  • On the other side of the coin, Switzerland’s new car sales have climbed around 15%, and by 16% in Slovakia.

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