Importing a car from the UK? Don’t buy a hybrid

Hybrid prices spiking in the UK second-hand market, in spite of tax changes

Hybrid imports are up by 193 per cent this year. Photograph:   Steven Miric/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images)

Hybrid imports are up by 193 per cent this year. Photograph: Steven Miric/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images)


With the number of imported second-hand cars reaching a new peak, you’d assume that the poor publicity surrounding diesel power would see oil-fired numbers falling. They’re not, though. In fact, according to the latest figures from diesel not only still makes up the lion’s share of cars imported from the UK, it’s actually continuing to accelerate.

As with new sales, hybrid and electric vehicles have seen significant increases in percentage terms, but the overall numbers are growing from a tiny baseline. So while hybrid imports are up by 193 per cent, and electric imports by 148 per cent, their actual figures are still dwarfed by diesel and petrol models. 3,502 hybrids have been imported this year (compared with 1,810 in 2017) along with 529 electric cars (327 this time last year).

That growth in hybrid interest is confirmed by Ashley Winston, head of Palmdale Motors, a UK-based agency that finds used cars for buyers, and either delivers them to the door or arranges for their collection. Irish buyers currently make up about 20 per cent of Palmdale’s business, a not-insignificant amount.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Winston said: “A year ago, any of our Irish customers picking up the phone would have been saying diesel, and only diesel. Now, they’re much more keen on hybrid, but oddly not so bothered about petrol.”


Winston says that the 1 per cent levy on diesel Vehicle Registration Tax (VRT) introduced in the October budget has not yet had a significant effect on diesel imports, and is unlikely to in the medium term. “A one per cent increase on a €20,000 is only a couple of hundred euro, so it’s not the biggest concern. To be honest, it will cost you more than the levy to fly over and ferry back with the car, in most cases, so I don’t think it’s going to affect diesel demand all that much.”

For Winston, one thing is clear though – if you’re looking for a used hybrid car, don’t import one from the UK, as values are spiking upwards. Dramatically, in some cases. “In most cases, I’d say that there’s even better value for Irish buyers in the UK market than there was a year ago,” says Winston.

That value is a combination of falling values for diesel cars in the UK, and the continued fluctuations in the euro-sterling exchange rate. Hybrid values are going up, though, so value in that market is much harder to find. “The changes in WLTP [worldwide harmonised light vehicle test procedure] rules have had a massive effect on the market,” Winston says.


“Because carmakers have struggled to get some new models to the market, so more people have been turning to nearly-new cars. Which means that the buyers who were buying nearly new are now buying year-olds. And there’s a knock-on of supply and demand back through the entire second-hand market. Older hybrids are really gaining in value now, as people get switched on to them.

“Prices for Toyota Prius and various Lexus hybrids have gone up sharply recently. In fact, just to give you an example, I’ve got an older-shape Lexus GS450h that I’m running at the moment, and even it’s gone up a couple of thousand in value just since I bought it.” Second-hand hybrid values could increase further in the coming months, as the UK government, bizarrely, rolls back on its incentives for new hybrid vehicles.