Optimism for year ahead as Irish car sales grow by 19% in 2021


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After a Covid-ravaged slump in new car sales in 2020, the Irish motor industry bounced back in 2021, although total registrations for the year remained down on those recorded in 2019.

104,932 new cars were registered in 2021, representing an 18.8% increase on the 88,325 units sold for the same period in 2020, but 10.4% fewer than the 117,109 recorded in 2019.

As anticipated, with the UK having formally left the EU, sales of imported used vehicles have fallen in the last couple of years, although they still represent a significant percentage of overall registrations. 2021 saw 63,617 Imported Used Cars registrations, a decrease of 20.4% on 2020 (79,969) and a decrease of 44.2% on 2019 (113,926).

The year saw a significant jump in sales for electric vehicles, with 8,846 registrations, more than double the 4,013 units recorded in 2020. Overall EVs made up 8.24% of total car sales in 2021. Hybrids and plug-in hybrids also recorded strong growth; petrol and diesel hybrids accounting for 18.34% of the overall market, while plug-in petrol and diesel hybrids represented 7.52%.

Diesel sales fell by 3,147 units compared to 2020, but it remains the most popular choice of engine type with 35,086 sales accounting for 33.44% of the overall market. Sales of petrol cars grew slightly by 3.53% and represented 32.16% of all sales with 33,751 sold.

“The difficulties arising from both COVID and Brexit impacted on the supply and demand for cars, which made 2021 another challenging year for the Irish Motor Industry,” noted Brian Cooke, SIMI Director General, adding that he is optimistic about 2022. “The Industry is hopeful that 2022 will see further improvements in business levels. Pre-orders do indicate a strong appetite for new and used cars, providing a positive outlook for our Industry and with a return to pre-pandemic 2019 new car sales levels expected.”

Brian Cooke – Director General SIMI

Toyota was the most popular brand in Ireland in 2021, taking 12.44% of market share, while its Corolla, Yaris, C-HR and RAV 4 were respectively the 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th best selling models. 

Volkswagen, the best selling brand of 2021, finished a close runner-up with 12.02% market share, while 3rd placed Hyundai claimed the honour of having Ireland’s most popular model. The new Tucson recorded 5,467 unit sales, over 1,100 more than the second placed Corolla. Škoda in fourth and Kia in sixth both recorded strong year-on-year growth, while BMW was the most popular premium brand in 2021, with 4.25% of the overall market. 

Of the rest, new brand MG will reflect on a strong first full year in the Irish market with 466 unit sales, while Cupra gets the award for the biggest year-on-year growth – going from 2 sales in 2020 to 184 last year represented a 9,100% improvement. Other brands to have significantly increased their annual sales in 2021 include Opel, Suzuki, Porsche, Ssangyong and Jeep.

Finally, will 2021 go down in history as the last in which the manual gearbox held sway? Sales of the once reviled ‘auto’ have grown significantly in recent years. While 2020 saw manual gearbox cars taking 59.8% of the market share, that figure had dropped to just 50.95% in 2021. It will be a brave person to bet against autos becoming the gearbox of choice in 2022.