Car industry hopes changed plate will change their luck

You may recall that a few months ago we were talking about possible changes to the Irish registration plate system. Those rumours look a bit more solid now and if the signals that the AA are getting are accurate next year’s registration plates will see the first change in format since 1987.

Motorists were not at all keen on this idea when it first came out. We asked people about it as part of our AA Motorists’ Panel poll and the results were strongly in favour of sticking with the existing system.

In fact the change will not be all that radical; one digit will be added immediately after the year. From next January the registration year will have two halves. January to June cars will have numbers that begin ‘131’, then it is ‘132’ for the second part of the year.

Giving the trade a second January every year will help them by spreading out the demand across the calendar. It will also spread out the depreciation on cars so that they do not drop so thumpingly in value every time Auld Lang Syne rings out. Arguably, as motoring consumers this is no loss to us.

A rather absurd reason that this is happening now is that trade was concerned that people might have been put off buying a ‘13’ reg car for superstitious reasons. That always seemed daft to me; I’m a natural sceptic with a strong distaste for mumbo-jumbo.

I was wrong as it turns out. 8.3 per cent of AA Members said they would be put off by a 13 reg when we asked them in a large poll sample of over 15,000 back in the springtime. Mind you they were admirably rational on their reasons – it was all to do with resale value rather than an actual belief in bad luck.

Certainly the Irish car industry needs its luck to change. Car sales are down again this year and will be just under 80,000 by the year end. When the boom was booming in 2007 there were 186,000 registrations.

The natural level for car sales probably ought to be somewhere between the two. The massively high sales of the Tiger era were unsustainable but we have probably over-corrected in the austerity years.

There have been some high profile business failures and bankruptcies among car dealers recently. I genuinely feel saddened by this. A lot of good people have lost jobs.

The pressure will not get any less next year. The change to the reg numbers may be of help but a likely increase in taxes may claw back any boost.

We have feared for quite some time that the motorist may be due for another attack in the budget in two weeks. Sadly I do not have good news on this front. As with the reg numbers we do not yet have any official announcement, and we won’t until budget day, but the smoke signals are ominous.

Car tax is going to go up. We don’t know by how much but the indications are that it will be roughly 15 per cent across the board. However it will not fall on all cars equally. Those at the lower emission end are likely to see the highest increases.

The problem is that the emissions standards have become so good that most and soon all new cars will be classed as ‘low emission’. The government now has to re-classify those emission bands to reflect the improvement in the tail-pipe or pretty soon every car on the road will be tax band ‘A’.

Even more appallingly from the motorists’ point of view we may well see a rise in fuel taxes. This will be dressed up – falsely, and don’t ever buy into the lie – as an increase in Carbon Tax. As I have said before Carbon Tax is a PR strategy not an environmental tax. It is easier to sell than an excise duty increase but it shouldn’t be – it is exactly the same thing.

Both the trade and the consumer are going to take a hit from an unsympathetic government that is desperate for the money. 2013 could live up to its unlucky label yet.



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