THE number of used-car imports is surging – just as new-car purchases continue their slide.
It would appear that more people are turning to imports, mostly from the UK, because they can't afford, or don't want, a new car.
Other likely causes of the decision to import are the level of second-hand prices on the home market where good, clean cars are relatively scarce.
Imports are running at 13,796 (up 13pc) so far this year, but the 2,006 brought in so far in April represent a 35pc increase on the corresponding period for last year (1,475).
The most popular import at the moment is the Ford Focus (also the world's best-selling car), with the likes of the Volkswagen Passat, Audi A4 and Ford Mondeo among the higher numbers brought in.
The figures were compiled by vehicle history check experts Motorcheck.ie, who provided them in response to a request from Independent Motors.
It would be dangerous to draw too many conclusions from the data, but there does appear to be a certain amount of used-for-new substitution going on.
The latest trend comes in the wake of figures published yesterday showing a high level of activity on the second-hand market generally, with nearly 900,000 cars changing hands here last year. Meanwhile, for those thinking about buying a new car, these are critical days too. They must weigh up the advantages of owning a 131-reg for the rest of the year, or waiting for a new 132-reg, which kicks in for the six months from July 1.
New-car sales usually begin to trail off a bit from this month, especially if Easter falls early as it is the traditional high tide for car-hire registrations.
However, given that purchases this year are down, it would appear from the number registered so far this month that there is no major decision to wait for July.
As of close of business on Monday, there were 1,485 new cars registered this month – technically down 17pc on last year but probably less considering the early Easter factor.
Year-to-date, there have been 41,017 registered (down 13pc), but there are huge variables at play. The imminence of an early Easter, for example, prompted a lot of hire cars to register in March.
So the overall picture probably hasn't changed that much in terms of how the market is faring. That doesn't make it any better for sellers, many of whom are sitting on cars that were ordered in the belief the market would be better.
All that pressure is making it a prime time for buyers who want a new car. Finance is not the major deterrent it once was. That is especially the case with PCPs (personal contract purchases), which are increasingly popular as they require just a 10pc deposit and regulate repayments over three years.
And with some dealers taking a 'hit' on the price of new cars, there is the kind of value out there now that we haven't seen for a long time.
Despite all that, the appetite for buying just isn't there.
Whether or not there will be better deals to whet that appetite in the lead-up to the second registration deadline of July 1 remains to be seen.
It is fair to say that the next few weeks represent a tipping point for buyers and sellers, with the new registration plate a mere two-and-a-half months away.
It also remains to be seen what the implications will be for dealers and new sales if second-hand imports continue to rise at their current rate.