Ireland’s relationship with Volkswagen is long-standing and robust, but can it weather the emissions storm? Early signs suggest it can.
The relationship between Ireland and Volkswagen dates back to 1950, when local motor industry pioneer, Stephen O’ Flaherty, inaugurated assembly at the Shelbourne Road facility in Dublin, making it the first plant outside Germany to build the Beetle. The very first car assembled at Ballsbridge, an oval-screen Beetle registered ZL 2286 was subsequently acquired by VW and remains on permanent display today in Wolfsburg.
Always a popular make here, Volkswagen dominated 2015 new car registrations. Taken as a single brand, Volkswagen obtained 12.3% of the market, but leaped to almost 25% once Audi, Seat and Skoda were factored in. Add to this 14.2% of the light commercial vehicle market and 35% of heavy commercials and the German auto giant’s grip on the Irish market appears virtually unassailable*.
In the Republic of Ireland, the emissions scandal story hasn’t particularly resonated with the general populace. Not even Volkswagen management’s repeated foot-in-mouth pronouncements, not least their refusal to compensate European customers whose cars were affected has impacted noticeably on Irish motorists’ buying habits. Whereas UK and US markets have seen sales falls at the close of 2015, there’s scant evidence as yet of anything similar occurring on our storm-lashed and mildewed isle, despite a heavy dependence on diesel-engined vehicles.
A recent Irish Examiner newspaper report appears to confirm Volkswagen’s resilience. Based on a poll of around 6000 customers carried out by insurer, 123.ie, 78% of existing VW owners polled said they would be prepared to buy another. Their findings also found almost 54% of non-VW owners stating the emissions scandal wouldn’t dissuade them from buying a Volkswagen. Of course it’s worth pointing out figures from the last three months of 2015 will most likely have contained pre-ordered vehicles, so a more telling marker will be how sales hold up throughout 2016.
Having collapsed 94% to just 57,460 cars following the European Central Bank bailout in 2009, car sales in Ireland have staged a strong recovery, with registrations totalling 124,945 cars and 23,722 light commercials last year. The Republic is now reported to have the oldest car stock in Europe, with an average car age of nine years, which offers good opportunities for retailers. With continued outward signs of economic recovery taking place, 2016 sales are projected to outstrip last year’s rebound, even if they’re likely to fall short of 2008’s pre-crash figure of over 151,000.
January is traditionally the busiest time of the year for new car sales and according to the Irish Independent newspaper last week, registrations to date show Volkswagen is currently lagging behind Hyundai, Toyota and Ford, but the report goes on to suggest VW’s performance traditionally strengthens as the year progresses.
So despite the Wolfsburg car giant’s image taking a knock; with customer confidence proving so robust, Volkswagen’s position in Irish hearts, minds and vehicle sales statistics appears secure – at least for now.
*Car sales figures sourced from the Society of the Irish Motor Industry body.