New car sales fall 10.4% in 2017 as used imports surge

Volkswagen still most popular new car brand in Irish market while hybrid sales pick up

New car sales were down 10.43 per cent in 2017, to 131,356, with weaker sterling driving a significant rise in used imports.

While there was a fall in new car registrations, used imports rose 29.52 per cent to 93,454 last year.

Ford, Volkswagen and Audi were the most popular brands of imported cars, with the Ford Focus, VW Golf and VW Passat the most common imported models. The biggest month for imports was September, with 8,662 cars re-registered in the State. During the same month, just 3,898 new cars were sold.

Figures from the Society of the Irish Motor Industry show that while new car sales were down in every county, the hardest hit was Mayo, with a drop of 17.6 per cent in registrations, followed by Meath at 16.26 per cent.


According to Alan Nolan, the society’s director general: “2017 was a very challenging year for the motor industry, mainly due to the impact of Brexit on euro-sterling exchange rates. Without Brexit we would have anticipated a reasonable level of growth in the market.”

Top brands

Volkswagen remains the most popular new car brand with 13,830 registrations in 2017, ahead of Toyota with 12,684, Ford with 12,243, Hyundai (11,932) and Nissan (10,348), according to the society's figures.

Of the top 10 best-selling brands in the Republic, only Kia recorded growth in sales last year, up 6.29 per cent on the back of the popularity of its Sportage SUV.

The most popular new car model was the Hyundai Tucson with 4,908 registrations, ahead of the VW Golf with 4,321, the Nissan Qashqai with 4,196 and the Skoda Octavia with 3,980.

At the premium end of the market, Audi recorded 5,544 registrations, ahead of a strong challenge from Mercedes-Benz with 4,838 and BMW with 4,652.

Sales of Mercedes were up 27.6 per cent on 2016, while both its German premium rivals recorded a fall in sales, with BMW down 15.6 per cent. Despite this, the most popular premium car on the market in 2017 was the new BMW 5 Series, with 1,717 registrations. The next most popular premium model was the Audi A4 with 1,347 registrations.

The recent arrival of Tesla in the State saw it record 51 new registrations in 2017, comprising 37 Model S saloons and 14 Model X crossover SUVs.

Diesel slump

While diesel remains the most popular engine choice, representing 65.2 per cent of all new registrations, that is down from a 70 per cent share in 2016.

The biggest growth was in the sale of hybrids, at 4,434, while electric car sales rose from 392 in 2016 to 622 last year. Despite the publicity surrounding electric vehicles throughout the year, they still represent less than 0.5 per cent of the overall new car market.

At the commercial end of the market, sales of light commercial vehicles – normally a bellwether for economic activity in the State – were down 14.2 per cent on 2016, at 24,195 for the year. Ford, Volkswagen and Renault remained the three biggest players in the Irish van market.

It was a similar story in the truck and bus market, where registrations of heavy commercial vehicles were down nearly 10 per cent at 2,872 in 2017.

As with passenger cars, however, the used market saw significant growth, with van imports up 21.4 per cent at 14,371, and heavy commercials up 14.8 per cent at 3,406 vehicles.

Outstanding finance

New figures also show a significant number of used cars are being offered for sale despite having outstanding finance loans. A survey by car-checking website found there was outstanding finance on 14.3 per cent of vehicles in a sample of nearly 6,000 cars it checked. While that’s lower than during the height of the recession – when levels reached more than 17 per cent – it is up on recent years.

According to John Byrne of “To give you some idea where we are coming from, the levels of finance outstanding was 7 per cent in December 2014, meaning the rate has doubled in three years.”

Michael McAleer

Michael McAleer

Michael McAleer is Motoring Editor, Innovation Editor and an Assistant Business Editor at The Irish Times