Irish motorists are spending almost €500m a year more on imported cars than official end-of-year statistics suggest. And some of the money is going on Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, Porsches and Ferraris.
Government end-of-year figures recorded 88,373 new car sales for 2010 costing a whopping €2.1bn, but back-door imports of 'bargain' used cars flooding the country accounted for an extra 40,490 registrations here and adds another €498,000,000 to the total amount spent during the year.
The numbers of used car imports has been a worry to the motor trade here because of lost sales. There are fears that some of these cars may be worn-out 'bangers', although statistics show that some cars imported from across the border were only 12 months old; many were high-end luxury models and almost 10,000 bore prestige Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Lexus and Jaguar badges.
There has been some surprise about the continuing high level of imports as the government scrappage scheme last year helped to bring down the price of a new car here. The huge market for mainly cheap used imported cars from the UK and Japan represents a substantial loss to the main dealerships although the figure is down by almost 18%, from 49,286 in 2009. This is attributed to the scrappage scheme which is said to have generated over 11,000 extra new car sales last year.
"There is a lot more spare cash floating around than we thought," said one leading figure in the motor trade. "Most of these would be cash sales in the UK where credit terms would not be available because of out of country addresses."
Figures show that among the second-hand imports re-registered here last year were 70 Porsches, eight Rolls-Royces, six Bentleys, four Aston Martins, four Lotuses, three Ferraris and three Maseratis, all in the luxury high-performance league.
The most popular executive imports were German cars: Audi topped the table at 3,928 followed by BMW at 3,656 and Mercedes Benz at 1,259. Other popular models were Jaguar at 268, Lexus at 233 and Land Rover/ Range Rover at 171.
By brand name, VW was the most popular choice of the used car importers, with 5,807 registrations. In the same period VW's Irish operation sold 10,393 new cars. The same picture emerges for another big seller, Toyota. Here second-hand imports were second-highest at 5,329 while Toyota Ireland sold 11,129 new cars. In the case of Ford, the market leader for new car sales during 2010, there were 5,195 imports, again almost half the figure of domestic new car registrations. Audi and BMW imports were close behind to make up the top five.
By model the most popular import was the VW Passat (3,054), followed by Ford Focus (2,714), Audi A4 (2,559), BMW 3 series (2,111), Toyota Avensis (1,920), VW Golf (1,606), BMW 5 series (1,243), Toyota Corolla (1,161), Ford Mondeo (1.037) and Honda Civic (723).
It is recognised within the trade that some dealerships have dipped into the 'import' trade to bolster finances during lean times. In 2009 business was hit hard due and sales fell dramatically.
Diesel was by far the most popular engine choice, making up over 70% of the market at 28,658 units; 28% went for petrol at 11,297 units and 1.3%, or 528 buyers, opted for hybrid power. Silver, black and blue were the most popular colours. The largest number of imports was registered in Dublin, at 8,959 (22%), followed Donegal at 4,084 (11%) and Cork at 3,903 (10%).