Ireland’s new-vehicle sales plunged 54.6% in October to 1,748 units as the country becomes enmeshed in the global financial crisis.

Light-commercial-vehicle deliveries plummeted 47.1% to 943 units, the Society of the Irish Motor Industry says in a news release.

Year-to-date, new-vehicle sales declined 18.2% to 150,790 units, while light-commercial deliveries fell 31.6% to 29,335.

Toyota (Ireland) Ltd. led 10-month new-car sales with 21,347 units, followed by Ford Ireland Ltd. with 18,868.

However, Ford continued its traditional domination in the light-commercial segment with year-to-date sales of 6,191 units, well ahead of second-place Volkswagen Ireland Ltd. with 4,032.

Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen says October’s jobless rate totalled 250,000 workers and could reach 320,000, or 6.7%, next year – the highest in 11 years.

“The increase in unemployment is regrettable, but unfortunately not surprising, given the dramatic slowdown in the global and national economy,” he says in a statement.

SIMI says more than 2,000 workers have been laid off at dealerships around the country this year due to plummeting sales.

“There is a degree of pessimism out there, the same as any business sector,” SIMI Finance Director Brian Cooke tells the Independent newspaper. “We haven’t seen a large number of (dealership) closures as yet.”

SIMI says its dealer members are being hurt by illegal vehicle imports and roadside car sellers and is calling for authorities to step-up enforcement.

“Real action must be taken now against this level of black-market activity,” SIMI Director General Alan Nolan says. “This situation is totally unacceptable and unfair to legitimate businesses that are entitled to have a level playing field.

SIMI estimates there may be between €50 million ($64.8 million) and €100 million ($129.6 million) in uncollected taxes at issue and claims drivers of imported cars are not asked for proper documentation.

“They are still getting away with these illegal practices at a time when both national government and the local authorities say they need money,” SIMI says in a statement.

Nolan warns of street protests if the government does not act.

“It would be quite ridiculous if we in the industry have to take to the streets to demand that the state actually enforces the law and collects due taxes,” he says. “But it looks like that is the only option open to us if we do not see some improvement very soon.

“The jobs of those employed in garages in every town in Ireland are at stake and we are not prepared to see these put at further risk by lack of action against the black (illegal) economy.”