Used car sales in March have plunged 18% on a year ago, likely due to the stink bug laden ships which were turned away from New Zealand shores for biosecurity concerns.
New and used car sales dropped 6.6% in February and 4.4% in March. Infometrics economist Hilary Parker said stricter controls for dealing with car shipments from Japan would likely continue to slow the supply chain and prompt further weakness in sales.
“The monthly decline was entirely due to fewer registrations of used imports, with stink bugs holding up car shipments from Japan,” Ms Parker said.
Total sales were 20,891 new and used cars for March, an almost 12% decline on a year ago, with the 9,050 brand new sales down 2% and imported used car cars down 18.2%, at 11,841 vehicles.
“The monthly decline was entirely due to fewer registrations of used imports, with stink bugs holding up car shipments from Japan,” she said.
While expecting a near-term decline in sales, Ms Parker expected sales of used cars would regain momentum over the coming year. She noted a recent ANZ-Roy Morgan survey showed consumer confidence had risen 5.7% since the end of 2017 and at present a net 39% of households thought it was a good time to buy major household items.
In March there had been fewer new large car sales, which drove a 2% decline in new car sales, while March sales of new small cars were up 11% from the year before. The shift in preference from large to small cars would likely be cemented by the latest increases in fuel excise, announced last week, on top of proposed regional fuel taxes.
“Consumers are already shying away from big gas guzzlers in favour of more fuel-efficient options,” Ms Parker said.
An additional tax of 20 cents per litre in Auckland and 10¢ everywhere else would not have an immediate effect on sales, Ms Parker said. However, the higher fuel costs could influence people's decisions when they next purchase a car and could accelerate the removal of older, less fuel-efficient cars from the nationwide fleet.
*Simon Hartley is senior business writer and assistant chief reporter for the Otago Daily Times.