Used imports 'could top 100,000' this year after sharp early rise
Increased numbers spark fears of drop-off in new car buyers
Used imports have surged 21pc already this month (to 6,210) amid growing expectations that numbers could top the 100,000 mark for the first time this year.
That would mean an increase of 8,000 to 10,000 on the record 92,000 brought in last year and suggests more and more people are taking the import option rather than buying new or secondhand 'Irish'.
It is an extraordinary juncture for all concerned.
According to a number of motor industry figures, 100,000-plus is now more likely given the stunning start to the level of UK imports in the first three weeks of the year.
One went so far as to suggest import numbers could exceed 110,000 such has been the high level so early in the year.
Others caution that last year's total is likely to be replicated.
Everyone is at pains to point out that anything can happen in a relatively short time on the Brexit front to change things.
If sterling regains strength against the euro, the projections could change significantly.
On the other hand, if the exchange remains the same or the euro strengthens, the figure could reach the higher level.
It is far too early in the sales cycle to project, except to note that levels of imports usually stay at much the same level month-on-month each year.
They tend not to fluctuate madly like new-car sales, which are now intensely seasonal and concentrated on limited timespans around two registration periods.
New-car registrations so far in 2018 are running a little below last year, but as a high proportion would have been booked in advance late last year it is probably too soon to gauge what real consumer sentiment is like on that front. Next month should provide a better guide to that.
However, most analysts expect a small dip, at best, in new-car registrations for 2018 compared with last year.
Those fears are being heightened by the surging start to the year of the imports as people appear to be opting for the fresher secondhands rather than buying new.
Another factor being felt at all levels is the way the flood of imports is affecting trade-in values.
Imports are setting the value bar lower because, naturally, the huge volumes involved are boosting supply.
For many people, trading up to a new car can mean the overall cost to change is noticeably higher and a possible deterrent in some cases.
The ramifications of higher volumes of imports are impacting on a different plane as well.
Industry sources in the Republic say we are importing cars that in many cases only meet previous emissions regulations - some going way back - and not those which have to be met by new cars.
They argue that is skewing attempts at local and national level to reduce the amount of pollutants, especially from older diesels whose NOx emissions have raised so many concerns on health in urban environments.