New car sales fell by 18.8% in January compared to the same time last year, new figures from the Society of the Irish Motor Industry show today.

The SIMI figures show that 17,293 new cars were sold last month, down from 21,302 sold the same time last year.

Sales of heavy good vehicles were down 7.3% while light commercial vehicles fell 9.3% in January.

74% of the new cars were diesel while 25% were petrol.

SIMI's director general Alan Nolan said that the new number plate system, introduced in January, was always going to see a slow start. He said he would expect to see increased interest as these cars are seen out on the road.

''There has been a slower start to the year than we would have hoped, given that there appear to be some positive signs on consumer confidence, but our sector has not yet seen any positive impact from this,'' he stated.

He also said some consumers still believe the new number plate is only for this year, adding that it is worth underlining that the new system is here to stay.

Mr Nolan also said that used cars are selling strongly.

The SIMI figures reveal that Volkswagen was the most popular brand of new car sold last month, followed by Toyota and Ford. Black was the most popular colour.