THE number of new cars licensed during 2011 surged by 13pc compared to the same time last year, boosted by motorists scrambling to get in before the government scrappage scheme finishes at the end of June.
New figures released by the Central Statistics Office show that 9,359 new cars were licensed in May, up 5pc on May 2010.
More than 60,000 new cars were bought in the first five months of the year, 7,000 more than in the corresponding period of 2010.
Meanwhile, the number of second hand cars being imported is down from more than 18,000 in the first five months of 2010 to 16,472 this year.
Ford, Volkswagen, Toyota and Renault were the most popular makes of new cars sold in May, with Toyota the top-selling brand so far for 2011.
However, only one in seven new cars is being bought under the scrappage scheme, which offers drivers a €1,250 tax rebate if they replace a car over 10 years old with a lower-polluting new one.
The Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI) said 9,360 tax reclaims had been made so far this year, and predicted this would surpass 10,000 by the time the scheme ends on June 30.
"Scrappage cars only represent around 15pc of total new cars so that's clear evidence of the great deals offered by dealers to all customers," said SIMI director general Alan Nolan.
CSO inflation figures indicate that car prices have dropped by 5pc in the past year, as dealers cut prices to woo customers.
Diesel cars are outselling petrol models three to one, and those with the lowest CO2 emissions are selling best because they attract lower tax.
More than 1,000 dual-fuel cars have been bought so far this year.
But despite record-high prices for petrol and diesel, electric-only cars have failed to make a breakthrough, with only 25 sold this year.
The number of lorries, vans and tractors sold is also up slightly on last year's poor figures, with 5,906 new goods vehicles licensed compared to a low of 5,011 two years ago.