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Tale of two economies as Irish car sales soar

ON THE night before the latest bank stress test was announced, Audi was launching the new edition A6 to a large and eager invited audience at the O2 venue in Dublin.

The two happenings couldn't have been more different. Luckily I was at the happier event to hear people talk about confidence, investment and progress. Audi was showing off a car that was fit for purpose -- sleek, clean, and economical, and packed with innovations.

Some €80m will be invested in premises over the next three years between the company and showroom owners with the aim of making the brand the leading premium marque over here. Audi is bristling with confidence worldwide with sales last year of well more than one million units, up some 40 per cent yearly in a decade.

The Audi launch came at the end of 10 days which had seen two other marques -- Citroen and Seat -- introduce their new management teams and virtually relaunch their brands in Ireland. The last full week of March also saw Ford take over parts of the luxurious Ritz-Carlton hotel in Wicklow to launch the very impressive new Focus.

That, in turn, came as the Society for the Irish Motor Industry was announcing how sales for this year were still romping ahead of last year, which in turn were, of course, massively better than the awful 2009. This prompted Ford managing director Eddie Murphy to revise very much upward his figures for total sales for the year.

Of course, some of this is built on the scrappage scheme, which comes to an end in less than three months' time. It has been a success not only in selling additional cars but more importantly in keeping people in jobs and even creating them. It has made it OK in many senses to be seen buying a new car and showing a bit of confidence in the future. That much of the sales of new cars has been to the cohort of people in the second part of their lives only illustrates the realities of the horror story which is the rest of the economy.

In many respects, cars have never offered such good value. They are for the most part better built, safer and more economical than ever. The car companies are stepping up to the mark in terms of better warranties and a more involved approach to their customers. There is still some way to go but the demands of the market have pushed them in the right direction. Customers should never put up with second best. Cars are the second-biggest purchase we ever make. It deserves respect.

Cars are more than inanimate creatures that take us from A to B. They can be the repository of our dreams, ambitions and maturity. They can mark both our independence and our self-worth. The need for changes in what fuels them makes for one of the biggest challenges facing both the industry and the country. The future will see us treat our cars differently and they must be only part of a very integrated transport system.

This supplement is a vote of confidence in the motor industry and the car-buying public. Contributing Editor Shane O'Donoghue has tested the latest models on the market and gives a rigorous view on the best scrappage options. He brings a very well-focused and knowledgeable eye to the latest developments.

In some ways, there are two economies out there: the new car industry and the rest. But people shouldn't apologise for that. It shows what incentive, good value and people not afraid to tell their story can achieve. Anything that makes us feel good is so welcome. We need to dream and we need to live a little.

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