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Motors

192 and beyond

Thursday, 25th July, 2019 10:29am

2019, much like 2018, is probably a year that the Irish motor industry would rather forget, on the whole. Although new car sales have actually ticked upwards a little in the past three months, this year has seen another drop-off in sales, and it’s almost all down to the dreaded B-word.

Yes, Brexit continues to demoralise and deflate the motoring world in Ireland, and its full impact will likely not be felt for some time yet, at least until the UK government pulls its head out from between its buttocks and actually does something constructive.

The problem is that the continued confusion over Brexit is keeping the value of Pound Sterling low, and that is a boon for Irish car buyers.

With a weak Sterling, second hand cars in the UK are temptingly cheap for us, even once we’ve done the paperwork and paid the Vehicle Registration Tax. That has triggered a tidal wave of second hand imports from the UK over the past three years, and that has caused new car sales to tumble. That’s a situation that’s likely to persist for some time to come.

Indeed, more than one Irish motor industry expert has opined that we could soon see more imports coming in than there are new cars being sold.

This has obvious implication from a business and employment perspective here, and there are other downsides to the import flood. As someone recently said, shop local — because Amazon isn’t going to sponsor your kid’s football team.

Aside from Brexit, there is also a lingering concern over motor tax and VRT rates, and what impact they might have on new car sales next year.

One senior car industry executive has warned us that the market for new cars in Ireland could plummet to as little as 55,000 sales next year. That’s if the Government does not move to adjust the VRT and motor tax bands before the new year.

In January, we will see the second stage of implementation of the WLTP fuel economy and emissions standards. Introduced last year as a replacement for the old, discredited, NEDC test, WLTP was designed to be more realistic about a vehicle’s fuel consumption and emissions.

And it is — the corollary being that on-paper fuel consumption and emissions figures are now much worse than they were.

When the EU introduced WLTP as the new standard test, it decreed that the introduction should be ‘revenue neutral’ and that extra costs in taxation should not be passed onto the consumer.

Given the significant increases in recorded Co2 emissions that will come into force in January (some cars will see their emissions figures jump by as much as 40g/km) that will not be possible unless the current vehicle taxation system is adapted.

Until now, it had been assumed by the car trade in Ireland that this would be done, and that the bands would be widened so that aside from a few worst-performing vehicles, taxation costs would stay broadly the same model for model.

With the reveal of the climate action plan, though, there are now concerns that the Government may leave the tax bands as they are as a way of pressuring drivers to switch to electric vehicles. Although certainly not revenue-neutral, that would likely be allowed by the EU as an environmental measure.

Such a measure would spell doom for new car sales, though, and would likely push more and more buyers to import used cars from the UK, which would still be taxed according to their older NEDC figures.

“Two of us were asked into Revenue for discussions on what kind of impact this might have on the market,” Paddy Magee, Country Operations Manager for Renault Ireland told the Cork Independent.

“We separately wrote our estimates down on paper. He said 55,000 sales, I said 65,000.”

Such numbers, if they are an accurate prediction, would push new car sales to a slump not seen since the dark recessionary days of 2009.

While the ambition to push people towards electric cars is noted as being admirable, the worrying thing is that this same chief executive, head of Irish operations for one of Europe’s largest builders of electric cars, told The Irish Times that neither he nor anyone from his company has been approached by the Government for advice on how to push car buyers into electric models, not even if electric cars can be built and sourced in sufficient numbers in the coming years.

“My heart sank when I heard someone from the Department saying that they’re not going to include aviation in the climate action plan, because ‘that’s a global problem’” said the Magee.

“That’s what the car industry is too, a global industry, one that can’t simply turn and service the needs of one small market like Ireland.”

“Lessons have to be learnt from the past, when dramatic changes to the taxation systems contributed to extensive job losses in the Industry, and any short-term changes must support the new car market and not undermine used car values” said Brian Cooke, Director General of the Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI).

“This means in the short term any changes should be gradual, as implementing measures too quickly can undermine used car values which will only make it more difficult for motorist to change to a new lower emitting car, which would ultimately hinder the drive towards zero-emissions.”

Industry figures have already criticised the timing of the release of the climate action plan, saying that its sowing confusion and driving down consumer sentiment just weeks before the new 192 registration period in July, potentially undermining sales and reducing revenue to the exchequer from car sales and taxation.

Worse still are worries that orders for stock to be built and delivered in time for January 2020 may be disrupted by a change, or lack thereof, in the tax system, possibly causing serious over-supply issues in the New Year.

Then there is the danger that by making new cars dramatically more expensive (some major models, such as the Renault Kadjar, could see prices rise by as much as €4,000) buyers won’t be driven towards electric cars, but instead ever more to those cheap second hand imports from the UK, many of which are older, more polluting models.

Well, that’s all the bad news. Now for the good stuff. Whatever shape the market assumes over the next few months, and into next year, there is a glut of deeply brilliant new cars coming to Ireland, and you are going to want to buy these, come what may.

Let’s start with electric cars and hybrids, seeing as these are the cars we really ought to be buying. We’ve just seen the arrival of the Kia eNiro and eSoul, electric crossovers priced at around €35-37,000 with longer one-charge ranges than many much, much more expensive premium models.

Also arriving soon will be a new version of the Nissan Leaf, which will get a major upgrade to a 62kWh battery pack that will push its range north of 400km on one charge, a potentially game-changing improvement for a car that was Ireland’s favourite electric vehicle, until the impressive Hyundai Kona Electric came along at any rate.

BMW’s all-electric Mini, which should have a range of around 300km on a single charge, is also coming soon, as are important new compact electric cars — Peugeot e-208 and e-2008 crossover, and Opel’s e-Corsa. All of those will have electric ranges in the region of 300km, and they will take on the new Renault Zoe, which is getting an all-new model this year, which will boast a massive 390km one-charge range, at a price of (hopefully) below €30,000. Mercedes’ expensive EQC all-electric SUV will also arrive this year, and Audi will show off its exciting e-Tron GT electric sports saloon this side of Christmas.

One of the most interesting new electric models will be Honda’s little ‘E’ hatchback — cute styling, gorgeous interior, premium pricing, but only a 200km range. Honda is hoping that the car’s premium appeal will get buyers to look past its small battery and short range.

Biggest news of all will be the Volkswagen ID — a Golf-sized electric car with a potential 500km one-charge range, and big-car space inside. You can already order one, although we don’t know the price yet, and haven’t even seen a full production version. It is likely to be a major milestone in the development of electric motoring, though.

On the hybrid front, BMW will launch its new plugin-hybrid 3 Series, the 330e while Volkswagen (again) has an updated Passat GTE plugin hybrid coming soon. Both should go for more than 50km on one charge of their compact battery packs, and have a petrol engine on board for longer journeys. Ditto the plugin version of the BMW X5 SUV, which gets a smoother six-cylinder engine this time around, and which will have a rival in the shape of a plugin-hybrid version of Mercedes’ impressive new GLE.

Mercedes will also have two plugin versions of its updated GLC SUV, one with a diesel engine, one with a petrol engine, but the diesel version doesn’t arrive until mid-2020. Toyota will introduce an updated version of the always-economical Prius in the summer. Subaru will also, finally, get into the hybrid game this year, with the launch of hybrid models of the XV crossover and Forester SUV in November.

Fancy something a bit more conventional? OK then, Renault has a new Captur compact crossover coming soon, to go with the new Clio that will be on sale in September. Both get major interior improvements compared to the outgoing models, and the Clio will be available as a hybrid, while the Captur will get a plugin hybrid version.

Ford has an all-new Puma on the way, but this one won’t be a cute coupe; instead it will be a compact crossover (still cute, though) that majors on interior space and practicality. It comes with a mild-hybrid 1.0-litre petrol engine, part of Ford’s big push in both the SUV and hybrid/electric markets. That’s backed up by a slick-looking new Kuga SUV, which borrows styling cues from the Focus, and gets a choice of mild-hybrid, full hybrid, and plugin-hybrid engines.

Speaking of the Focus, Ford hasn’t forgotten how to do a true hot hatch, the new 280hp Focus ST arrives soon, promising some serious driving thrills (and there will even be a rapid diesel estate version to compete with the Skoda Octavia RS).

Mazda is working on a future generation of hybrid and electric vehicles, but in the meantime it’s going to offer a hugely clever and high-tech new petrol engine called the SkyActiv-X, which mixes the best of both diesel and petrol technology for a claimed 30 per cent improvement in emissions and fuel consumption, with not a battery in sight. It’ll be on sale in the impressive new Mazda 3 from October, and that will be followed by the gorgeous-looking new CX-30 crossover — Mazda’s rival for the Nissan Qashqai.

BMW has a new 1 Series coming soon which - shock, horror - switches to front-wheel drive, but which promises to be much more roomy and practical as a result. That should have gone head-to-head with the new, eighth-generation, VW Golf, but the Golf has been delayed a little (because of work on the ID electric car) and so won’t be properly with us until early 2020.

What will be here this year is the new Opel Corsa, which gets striking new looks and which shares its chassis and engines with the equally new Peugeot 208 as these two superminis seek to get in and disrupt a class currently dominated by Ford, Toyota, and Volkswagen.

In the all-important SUV market, Nissan will launch its long-awaited all-new Juke crossover later this year, and that will go head-to-head with the equally-new Skoda Kamiq. Based on the same mechanical package as the Seat Arona and the Volkswagen T-Cross, the Kamiq will be looking to rekindle the appeal of the old Yeti, and will have the usual Skoda clever practical touches. Want something a bit more simple from Skoda? Check out the new Scala hatchback, which is arriving in dealers right now.

Mercedes will expand its seemingly endless range of SUVs with the new GLB, sized between (guess what?) a GLA and a GLC, it’s a square-sided mini G-Wagen in style, with space inside for seven seats. If it’s not an utter smash hit, we’ll eat our hats.

Arriving into Ireland just now is also a true motoring icon; the new Toyota Supra. Based on a chassis and straight-six engine shared with BMW (for the Z4), the Supra is a pared-back two-seater, about as high as your hips, with lighting responses and savage acceleration. If you’ve recently bought a Porsche, I hope you kept the receipt.

To go with the new Range Rover Evoque, Land Rover will launch a heavily revised Discovery Sport, the compact seven-seater that has often been the brand’s best-seller in recent times. It gets an upgraded interior, more efficient mild-hybrid diesel engines, and eventually a plugin hybrid model.

Land Rover will also, at last, show off its long-anticipated new Defender later this year, but realistically that’s not going to be on sale till 2020. Meanwhile, sister brand Jaguar will launch an updated XE compact sports saloon, and will show it’s all-new electric XJ luxury saloon before the end of the year.

Volvo’s dramatic-looking S60 saloon is going on sale about now. It’s identical under the skin to the existing V60 estate, but looks even sportier, and comes without a diesel option. Turbo petrol models is all you’ll get for now, with plugin-hybrids in the offing shortly. Volvo will also show off its new V40 hatchback and saloon before year’s end.

Mercedes will launch its CLA Shooting Break small estate, based on its front-drive four-door coupe, while the new A-Class saloon is just arriving on showroom floors now.

Speaking of posh saloons, Audi has a heavily revised A4 (now with mild-hybrid tech) arriving in the Autumn, while it also has an all-new A3 due to be revealed at around the same time.

Skoda will launch an updated Superb (complete with a plugin-hybrid model) before the end of this year while BMW will have a four-door 8 Series Gran Coupe, as well as a mighty 620hp M8 and an all-new X6 to sit alongside the somewhat more saintly all-electric iX3 battery-powered SUV.

DS, Citroen’s luxury spinoff, already has its striking DS 7 Crossback SUV on sale, and it’s set to be joined by the new, compact, DS 3 Crossback, a small crossover that essentially replaces the old DS3 hatchback. That one will have an all-electric model, too.

Hyundai will update its electric-and-hybrids Ioniq model range with a new interior and some exterior styling tweaks, while Kia will have the new, slick-looking Xceed — a Ceed hatchback given the styling of an SUV.

Sounds daft, but actually looks rather tempting.

Porsche will continue to roll-out more variants of the just-launched 992-model of the evergreen 911 sports car, as well as launching a surprisingly sexy-looking Coupe version of the big Cayenne SUV.

The biggest move for Porsche, though, will be the reveal of its all-electric Taycan super-saloon, 600hp performance, ultra-rapid charging, and a range of more than 500km are all promised.

Seat, which is carving out an ever-growing niche for itself in Ireland, has a stylish new Leon hatchback to show off towards the back end of the year, while Opel will give its Astra hatchback a mild update and some new, more efficient engines. So, while the industry itself may be folded into knots worrying about the future, the fact is that there is a positive cornucopia of exciting new models coming our way.

Debates will likely rage on, over Brexit, over taxes, over imports, over petrol/diesel/hybrid/electric, but one thing is sure; there’s going to be no lack of new cars from which to choose, no matter what your budget or taste might be.

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