Renault chief reveals how events and decisions affect what you buy
I don't think car buyers realise just how much events and decisions elsewhere can influence what they buy - and how much they pay.
The people who bring new cars into the country - the distributors - have to second-guess what's going to happen months in advance.
In conjunction with their dealers they have to gauge what demand and consumer confidence will be like, if they'll have to spend more on advertising or discounts or special deals to sell a car, for example.
For you, that could mean possible savings on a model that isn't shifting or a range that isn't meeting targets.
Many distributors have to plan four-to-six months ahead. There is flexibility when placing orders with the factories but it can be limited enough. So if they get it wrong they have to put it right, somehow. That happened to some last January/February when they ordered on the basis that the July 162-reg would be a whopper. Brexit played a part in taking some of the wind out of the sails of their optimism.
The cost of keeping an unsold new car in stock from, say, August to January is high and that is why there are often good deals to be picked up.
All of this is by way over an overview of the general market and a focus on one manufacturer, Renault, who had us along to drive new models and ask some questions.
Paddy Magee is Country Operations Manager for the Renault Group (it includes Dacia) and he spoke frankly as he forecast a "difficult enough" year ahead.
Pre-registration of cars, whereby they are registered to boost market share, but sold at discount a while later, could be a major factor if 2017 is sluggish, Mr Magee said. "Every manufacturer is doing it." The strategy accounts for 45pc of 'sales' in Germany; and has just gone above 30pc in UK. In Ireland, it "costs a lot of money". That's why he would like to see the market stabilise. Pre-registration is a "consequence of not planning" and "is not a nice part of the trade".
And while January will be strong on sales due to lots of stock, the real test for sellers - and opportunities for buyers perhaps - will come after that.
He reckons a couple of years' stability might be a good thing for buyer and seller. Dealer numbers are way down - as we know only too sadly from the recession years - but those in place are now in a position to make a profit and plan. Stability enhances that.
Renault have 28 dealers; 30 will be the max. The brand has 18 vehicles vying for your money this year - with two more to come: the Koleos SUV and Alaskan pick-up. Meanwhile the Dacia brand pushes on, with the Duster continuing to blaze something of a trail.
I've previously driven and detailed the new Renault arrivals so I won't waste your time going back over them but basically they have the new Scenic (5dr, from €26,00) which looks more SUV and Grand Scenic, a 7-seater favourite of mine (from €28,000). On our drive west of Dublin I had great room in its second row.
They also have the three versions of the new Megane: hatch, estate (from €20,490) and saloon (called the Grand Coupe - but it's a saloon; from €21,990).
The small-family-car/C-segment is still the biggest despite the SUV surge so they are well positioned. The estate and saloon have lots of room, that's for sure. Diesels predominate (1.5-litre, 1.6-litre) with different power outputs though there are really good petrols as well. Automatic gearboxes are in greater demand, apparently, and cost €1,700 more.
There will be a longer-range ZOE electric vehicle in April. I've reviewed it here before: I got 280km on a single charge - enough to get me to Galway and half-way back to Dublin.
I think it's a car that can change perceptions - if they can get the price right (a projected €25,000+ is steep). They are considering having one at dealerships as a courtesy car - so customers can drive it for the day while they are having their own vehicle serviced etc.
Everyone knows electric is a big part of the future. But for now, certainly for 2017, the immediate focus is on how many people are going to buy a petrol or a diesel.
One thing is certain: it will be a hotly contested year for sales - and that should spell good news for potential buyers.
Should you buy now or hold on?
The cars coming our way: Pages 6, 7