THE car industry has got off to a flying start in 2014, with new car sales in the first nine days of the year up 43 per cent on the same period last year.
More importantly, as a sign of the increased confidence among the business community, commercial vehicles sales were up 53 per cent. This follows a positive 2013 for the commercial market, which saw a yearly increase of three per cent for light commercial vehicles and 27 per cent for heavy.
As of last Thursday, 8,132 new cars had been sold, compared with 5,698 in the first nine days of 2013. Commercial vehicle sales were 978 against 640 last year.
Suzanne Sheridan, spokeswoman for the Society of the Irish Motor Industry, said there was very positive feedback from dealers around the country, pointing to very busy showrooms.
"While it's obviously early days -- we're just a week in -- it is very positive. Trade-in values are very good at the moment, due to the lack of '09 and '10 cars. There may have been some built-up demand with people putting off buying last year and choosing to buy now. In addition, there is greater access to finance and a lot more choice," added Ms Sheridan.
SIMI was predicting that final sales for the year would be around 85,000, which compares with around 74,000 last year and nearly 80,000 in 2012.
Toyota was the number one brand in the first nine days of 2014, with more than 1,200 passenger cars and more than 100 commercial vehicles being sold.
According to Steve Tormey, deputy managing director of Toyota Ireland, the company has had an exceptionally strong start to 2014 with their dealer network reporting the highest levels of January footfall in showrooms in more than five years.
"For Toyota, this is being driven by demand for models right across our range but particularly for the new Auris, Corolla and RAV4, with our overall sales having increased 70 per cent over 2013. Demand for commercial vehicles has also increased for models such as the new Proace and five-seater business class Landcruiser, which is further evidence of improving consumer and business sentiment," added Mr Tormey.
The company's premium brand, Lexus, is also experiencing a similar increase in demand, having trebled sales over the same period last year, led by the new IS300h and the recent launch of the new GS300h.
Hyundai built on its startling performance last year, in which it leap-frogged into overall fourth position in sales. In the first nine days of the year, the Korean marque sold nearly 1,000 cars, making it the second most successful marque.
"We are absolutely delighted. We think there has been a quantum leap in terms of sales and acceptance of the brand," said marketing manager Sarah Hayes.
Audi Ireland is reporting that the market has been very buoyant for the first few days of 2014, thanks to the delivery of the first batch of cars from a strong order bank, which was up 28 per cent.
Audi is very positive about 2013 and, while it wouldn't be drawn on its expected market share for 2014, Audi's general manager for sales, Mark O'Connell, did suggest that Audi would command around 33 per cent of the premium share from initial figures.
Sales could have been even better but for delays in supply for certain marques. Volkswagen's operations director, Paul Burke, had, before Christmas, said in this newspaper that its order bank was around 50 per cent up on the previous year.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent he said that the delivery and registration of some customer cars had in fact been hampered by poor weather conditions that had been delaying ships loaded with new cars coming to Ireland.
He did say that Volkswagen dealers were reporting brisk footfall and that there were positive signs for 2014. Volkswagen was the top-selling marque last year.
Delays in deliveries of new models was also something reported by Skoda brand director John Donegan. While hesitant to quote concrete figures compared to last year, he did tell me that there was a confidence both in the dealer network and in terms of customer interest in its new models, as well as its finance offers.
SEAT, which recently reported significant growth figures of more than 60 per cent in 2013, hopes to maintain this trajectory in 2014. Director Cian O'Brien said that it, too, was suffering from the same shipping issues as their sister brands with a large number of customer cars set to arrive in the coming weeks, but with an order bank up 19 per cent it also saw a strong year ahead.
Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, perhaps crucially, have reported very positive footfall and enquiries in their 24 dealers. Niall Phillips, head of sales and marketing, told the Sunday Independent that in the first 10 days, registrations were up 40 per cent.
Sales of commercial vehicles are something of an economic bellwether, and the upsurge following on from last year points towards signs of general economic improvement.