In the first two months of this year, 72,160 new cars were registered, 50% up on the same period of 1999. Last year the total Irish new car market was 174,229: this year the projections are for at least 220,000.
Fuelling the boom is low interest rates, although they are now creeping slowly upwards. A secondary factor is used car testing. It only became obligatory at the start of this year: the Irish Government actually delayed its introduction through EU derogation. Many old car users, faced with the prospect of failing the test, are opting for new purchases.
The fleet sector predictably is sharing in this buoyant atmosphere, although no one in the Irish motor industry can accurately define its size, in marked contrast to the sophisticated presentation of the total market figures. Most fleet sales managers interviewed put the fleet content at 'about 60%'. Within that figure, however, is car rental, important to Ireland's thriving tourist business. Last year the rental market was 23,431 new cars.
Fleet sizes are much smaller in Ireland than elsewhere in Europe, with just 640 companies operating fleets of more than 25 vehicles, about 3,000 with five or more, and up to 14,000 with fewer than five.
But fleet business is moving upwards in line with the overall market.
David O'Driscoll, Ford Ireland's business development manager, sees the growth as very much part of the Celtic tiger economy. 'Companies just can't get staff: the company car has to be a factor in this. We are talking about positions where a car was never offered before,' he said.
In the same context he notes a growth in user-chooser activity. 'It's all now about flexibility, about keeping the staff happy.'
Cyril McCabe, fleet sales manager of Fiat Auto Ireland, agrees that companies are increasing their fleets to retain staff. 'Another trend is offering cars with a superior level of specification. The archetypal fleet car here used to be a 1.6, now it is moving to 1.8 and 2.0 litres,' he said.
It isn't just the Irish new car market that is booming: the light commercial area is also expanding, albeit at a slower rate. The first two months of 2000 show a 20.3% increase and 12,018 new registrations.
Is there a downside to all this boom and more boom? Most definitely, and it's all succinctly explained by Eddie Nolan, Ford Ireland's managing director: 'We are economy wise leaping ahead and infrastructurally lagging behind'. There's a lot of catching up to do, making room for all those extra wheels.