No dice for Dacia as cut-price car fails to make a killing in Ireland

Despite hype and low prices, only 857 Dacia cars were sold in Ireland this year

Left for dust: A line of Dacia Dusters

Left for dust: A line of Dacia Dusters

 

Dacia landed on the Irish market last summer in a storm of publicity, touting itself as the ideal brand for a recessionary car market. After all, who could fail to be swayed by the combination of bottom-drawer prices, decent standard equipment and proven, robust mechanicals? So, when the €15,000 Duster SUV and latterly the €9,990 Sandero hatchback arrived on the scene, they should have cleaned up. After all, the Duster undercuts its closest conceptual rival, the Skoda Yeti, by almost €10,000 model-for-model, and the Fiesta-sized Sandero is priced to compete with city car tiddlers such as the VW Up and Fiat Panda. Given the fact that the number of used cars purchased in the State currently exceeds new car sales by up to a factor of ten, Dacia stood to make a killing.

It hasn’t. So far in 2013, Dacia has sold 857 cars – 606 Dusters and 251 Sanderos. By comparison, Ford has sold 2,100 Fiestas in 2013, even though the cheapest Fiesta is €5,000 more expensive than the cheapest Sandero. Dacia’s total market share is hovering around the 1.4 per cent mark, whereas across Europe it holds an average share of twice that.


‘Doing just fine’
So what’s happening in Ireland? According to Patrick Magee, MD of Dacia Ireland, the brand is doing just fine for now. “A year ago Irish people didn’t know what or who Dacia was,” he said. “ Today over 55 per cent of people are aware of the Dacia brand in Ireland and, more importantly, over 90 per cent of comments about Dacia were positive. This was very important for us.

“For a new brand that has just launched and to already have 1.4 per cent of the market is a massive achievement – we’re outselling long established brands that have been in the Irish market for years.”

The point is well made. But, for all the publicity and apparent good feelings surrounding Dacia, Irish car buyers are notoriously hard to shift from one brand to another. We are still a nation that buys our cars from our local dealer, rather than seeking out specific brands or models.

“In the past few years, brand loyalty has been dropping off – it is still the main reason for a customer to purchase a new car but its importance is dropping off,” says Magee. “ Dacia is actually the perfect brand for today’s buyer – people are less concerned with brand/badges and more with value and getting a car that’s solid and reliable.” But surely if that were the case, Dacia would be scoring the same high market shares in Ireland that it’s achieving in Europe.


Unproven brand
Perhaps it is actually Dacia’s very low prices that are the problem. By pitching its prices so close to those of the used cars occupying the same forecourt, Dacia could be shooting itself in the foot. After all, why wouldn’t we buy a used car from a familiar brand, rather than take a chance on a relatively unknown, unproven brand?

There’s also a conceptual issue here. The other one-time budget brands in the market, Skoda, Hyundai and Kia, have all moved upmarket and brought their customers with them, offering low-ish prices mixed with high-tech drivetrains and equipment. Dacia’s pointedly utilitarian nature flies in the face of that idea.

Dacia’s cars have been critically well received, and its Irish market share is slightly ahead of its UK market share. But if you can’t dominate a market that should be begging for high-value, low-cost purchases, what happens when things pick up again?