New figures from the Central Statistics Office show the number of new cars licensed for the first time slumped by almost 30% in March compared to the same time last year.

Just 10,239 new private cars were licensed for the first time in March, down 28.9% compared to the figure of 14,404 in March 2019.

The CSO also said that a total of 5,582 used (imported) private cars were licensed, a fall of 38.7% on the same month last year.

The CSO said the "notable" drop in the number of new cars licensed in March 2020 has clearly been influenced by the onset of the Covid-19 crisis, which escalated as the month progressed and which forced the closure of car salesrooms around the country.

Comparing today's figures with the recently published SIMI figures - which showed a steeper fall of 63% - the CSO said it appears that the registration of cars by dealerships slowed considerably during March.

The CSO's monthly licensing figures and the registration figures from SIMI differ due to the different dates on which a vehicle is registered - gets its number plate - and licensed -  gets it tax disc. 

A vehicle may be registered by a dealership in advance of a sale, and vehicles which are registered in a given month may not be licensed until a later month. 

"The March figures indicate that registration of new cars by dealerships slowed considerably during the month," the CSO said in a statement. 

The CSO noted today that electric and hybrid cars continue to grow in popularity. These vehicles accounted for 15.9% of all private cars licensed in the first quarter of 2020, compared with 10.3% in the same time in 2019. 

Today's figures also showed that 44,167 new private cars were licensed in the first quarter of 2020, a slowdown of 13.2% compared with the first three months of 2019. 

The number of used (imported) private cars licensed fell by 21.4% compared with the same period in 2019, the CSO added. 

Toyota was the most popular make of new private cars licensed in the first quarter of the year, followed by Volkswagen, Hyundai, Skoda and Nissan. 

Together these five makes represent 50% of all new private cars licensed in the three month period. 

The most popular new private car model in March was the Volkswagen Tiguan, the CSO said.