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Cheapest route for car buyers may be to shop around Europe

IRISH car buyers should shop around Europe for the best deals, as prices continue to vary by up to 30pc across the EU.

Even with the extra cost for getting a right-hand drive car, the savings can be considerable.

And the gap is forecast to widen after enlargement in less than two months' time, with pre-tax prices even lower in some of the accession countries like Poland and Slovakia.

Although Irish car prices are generally at the lower end among the 15 current member states, they leap by up to 76pc more after taxes are included - far more than in most countries.

The latest European car survey shows the promised drop in prices from a more liberalised car market has still to feed through to consumers, with many controls not due to be removed for another year.

Although the market for both servicing and spare parts was liberalised last October, the European Commission admits it is too early to assess if it will force prices down, as predicted when the changes were announced.

At the moment, five separate models are cheaper pre-tax in Ireland than any where else, while five others are the most expensive out of 91 compared. Before tax, Ireland is the cheapest place in Europe to buy a Volkswagen Polo, Citroen Xsara Picasso, Citroen C5, Citroen C8 and an Audi A8.

Ireland is the most expen sive for five other models - 27.7pc dearer than the cheapest country for the Toyota Corolla, Fiat Sei cento (24.8), Skoda Superb (24.9), Nissan Micra (21.8) and the Saab 9.3 (16.1).

Dublin MEP Proinsias de Rossa calculated that of the 91 different cars surveyed, Irish pre-tax prices were 8pc above the lowest price anywhere else.

He claimed car manufacturers "are still ripping" off Irish car buyers.

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"The perception that pre- tax prices in Ireland are among the lowest in Europe is merely the result of an extremely well-funded but entirely misleading PR campaign by manufacturers. As the commission has pointed out, the lowest pre-tax prices are to be found in Denmark, Greece and Finland, not Ireland."

But Cyril McHugh of the Society of the Irish Motor Industry dismissed Mr De Rossa's interpretation of the figures. "It's a silly argument, you have to take the average price and work from there. We're 8pc more than the cheapest anywhere," he said. "Obviously he's on some form of capitalist crusade against manufactur ers."

Finland and Denmark's even higher tax rates force manufacturers to sell cars there at even lower prices than Ireland. This appears to be the case for the Toyota Corolla and the Saab 9.3, since an Irish car buyer would have to travel to Helsinki for the best price.

The cheapest place to buy a Nissan Micra is Greece - but it is also considerably cheaper in nearby France where irish motorists could feasibly 'shop' for a bar gain. Prices are more diffi cult to compare with the non-Eurozone countries of Britain, Denmark and Swe den, but are generally more expensive in Britain than Ireland.

If you order the Micra in France, you would pay ?8,938 before tax, plus ?366 for a right-hand drive model, before adding VAT and VRT payable in Ireland - these taxes together add about 56pc for a small-engined car, when driven into Ireland. The total price tag comes to ?14,514 - still ?1,140 cheaper than in Ireland. The price for driving off the forecourt for most French consumers would be ?10,690, compared with ?15,655 in Ireland.

But Mr McHugh claimed the real villain affecting Irish motorists was the taxman, not the carmakers.

The prices surveyed have in addition 21pc VAT plus a vehicle registration tax - which, at the top rate, adds 56pc to the initial pre-tax car price and increases prices by up to 76pc.

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