The make-up of carparks has long been a good indicator of trends in the domestic economy, given that cars are the biggest discretionary expenditure item after purchasing a home. But the car market has also become a key barometer of what is happening in the global economy, and trends in the sector now need to be closely watched to understand what’s going on.
New car sales hit a 5-year low in 2018 signalling a bad year for the motor industry, or was it? Once again this headline conceals contrasting fortunes for different brands and models. Whatever the economic weather there are always winners and losers.
According to today’s SMMT new car sales figures, demand for a new set of wheels in Northern Ireland and the rest of Great Britain continues to wane. UK dealers saw new car sales plunge by one-fifth in September relative to last year. Locally, NI car showrooms saw almost 1,000 fewer vehicles sold last month relative to September 2017. That represents a decline of 15% y/y. Some 5,365 vehicles were sold last month in Northern Ireland, which represents the quietest September in seven years.
Car sales stuck in reverse
One of the trends that we have been seeing in car sales is motorists shunning diesel vehicles for petrol and plug-in versions. But while consumer behaviour is changing in response to the eventual phasing out of diesel cars, we are also seeing overall sales volumes continuing to follow a downward trend. This highlights a lack of consumer confidence which in turn reflects a squeeze on household incomes. In short, new car sales have been in a state of managed decline over the last two years, and this appears to be continuing. Continue reading
A reversal of fortune in the service sector should hail a return to business as usual for the UK economy.
New car sales traditionally provide a useful barometer of consumer confidence. In recent months, however, interpreting the figures requires a degree of caution given the significant volatility, in the car sales. Tax changes, the weather and the timing of Easter have all affected the volume of new cars sold and the annual growth rates over the last 12-15 months. This ‘noise’ can misrepresent the genuine underlying trends.
New car dealers in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all posted hefty double-digit year-on-year declines in March. These ranged from 15% for England to 21% for Scotland with Northern Ireland coming in with an annual decrease of almost 17%. Last month was the quietest March for NI new car dealers in five years. This wasn’t due to the Beast from the East dissuading would-be car buyers from venturing out to dealers’ forecourts. Instead the steep falls are largely due to the inflated sales figures in March 2017. Back then Northern Ireland car sales increased by 10% y/y. However, this was distorted by a change in Vehicle Excise Duty in April 2017, which incentivised consumers to bring forward their plans to buy a new car.
Sales of new cars in Northern Ireland fell last year by the steepest amount in six years. The 5.2% decrease followed broadly flat sales in 2015 and 2016. Showrooms’ sales volumes are now 21% below where they were a decade ago. Continue reading
New car sales have been on the slide in the UK in 2017. November marked the eight successive year-on-year fall, with UK sales down 11%. England, Scotland and Wales posted double-digit declines last month with Scotland recording the sharpest fall (-24% y/y). The falls though conceal shifting patterns of demand between fuel types. Sales of petrol cars continue to grow (+5% y/y) while diesel sales plummeted by 31% y/y. Meanwhile the Alternative Fuelled Vehicles (AFV) sector saw sales volume surge by one-third in November. Continue reading
There is a famous video about the reintroduction of a small number of wolves to Yellowstone National Park. It tells of how this intervention triggered a vast chain of unforeseen events, including forests regenerating, rivers becoming more fixed in their course, and soil erosion stopping. This had fundamental implications for the park’s ecosystem and very physical geography.