New car sales fell by 21% last month when compared with February 2016, according to new figures from the Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI).

There were 17,128 new car registrations during the month, down from 21,573 for the same period a year ago.

However, industry bodies have cited an extra trading day in February 2016 due to it being a leap year as a reason for such a pronounced fall in sales.

Car history check website Motorcheck said that when the first 28 days of last February are compared with the full month this year the reduction is markedly lower at 3.25%.

It added that traditionally there is a large push in new car registrations on the last day of the month as manufacturers look to hit targets.

Across the year so far, new car registrations are 8% lower than they were at the same point in 2016, with 56,110 sales, compared with 61,295.

Toyota is the top-selling manufacturer this year, followed by Hyundai and Ford.

The best-selling car model is the Hyundai Tucson, with the Nissan Qashqai and Ford Focus next best.

SIMI Director General Alan Nolan said the industry had been “anticipating lower numbers in February compared to 2016, with Brexit continuing to impact on used vehicle imports, with fewer working days this year and with less hire-drive cars because of a later Easter but these numbers are somewhat poorer than we had hoped”.

SIMI predicts new car sales for the entire year to come close to 140,000, which would be 7,000 fewer than 2016.

Motorcheck MD Michael Rochford said February sales “must be taken with a pinch a salt” because “there is a little distortion due to the leap year in 2016.

“There is no doubt that this year is not going to perform as well as 2016. There is a lot of uncertainty around due to Brexit and with exchange rates in their current position used cars imports from the UK are growing massively,” he added.