The automotive industry in Ireland has had a varied history and despite the small size of the island, the punitive tax on imported cars encouraged a wide range of companies to assemble their cars locally including Fiat, Ford and Renault. From Ireland's entry to the European Union in 1973, the need for locally produced cars to avoid import taxes reduced and since the 1980s, production ended and all cars are now imported.
The Alesbury automobile was exhibited in Dublin in 1907, but manufacture lasted only from then until 1908.
In 1917, Ford opened a plant opened in Cork, initially for tractor manufacture as Fordson, but from 1921 cars were built as well. The Henry Ford and Son Limited factory was the first to be purpose built by Ford in Europe, starting its life on the site of an old Cork racecourse. The factory produced a range of models including the Prefect, Escort, Cortina and production ended with the Sierra in 1984. The factory site extended over 18 acres and employed 7,000 people.
Motor Distributors started to import Volkswagen Beetles in 1950 packed in crates in what was termed 'completely knocked down' (CKD) form ready to be assembled, and was the first Volkswagen ever built outside Germany. The vehicles were assembled in a former tram depot in Shelbourne Road in Ballsbridge, which is now the premises for Ballsbridge Motors who are still a Volkswagen dealer. Irish-assembled Beetles rose from an output of 46 units in 1950 to 2,155 units in 1952. This necessitated a move in 1955 to a new factory premises on the Naas Road. Assembly of the Beetle continued there until 1980 when production of the car ceased in Europe. Volkswagen vehicle assembly continued in Dublin until the mid-1980s. During the same period, the Volkswagen Transporter van was also assembled. Motor Distributors also assembled Renault in the late 50s early 60s.
Fiat had an assembly plant in Summerhill. O'Neill were Dodge agents. Vauxhall cars and Bedford commercials were assembled in Santry by McCairn's Motors. Reg Armstrong of motorbike racing fame, had an assembly plant in Ringsend for NSU and Opel. For a time there was also and Opel assembly plant in Cork, the Republic of Ireland was divided into a north and south sales areas for Opel. The Cork assembler O'Shea also had the Zetor tractor and Skoda car franchise.
The Heinkel Kabine was produced for a short period in 1958. The Shamrock was a short-lived car with a short production of only eight cars in the 1960s in Castleblaney, County Monaghan.
A large number of British cars were assembled in Ireland from CKD kits from the 1920s to the 1960s up to 1974. Austin cars and commercial models were assembled by Lincoln & Nolan, Morris cars were assembled by the Brittain's Group, who subsequently acquired Lincoln & Nolan. Morris Commercials, MG, Riley and Wolseley cars were assembled by Booth Poole, which was also taken over by Brittains.
Thompson Motor Co. built a new factory in Wexford in 1965 where it assembled the Renault 4, with almost 200 employees producing 35 cars a day. It later went on to produce the TMC Costin, a lightweight sports car, from 1983 to 1987.
The 1970s Hillman Hunter was assembled in Santry until production ended in 1979.
In 1982 Vauxhall models ceased to be sold, with all General Motors cars carrying the Opel badge.
The short-lived DeLorean Motor Company operated in Dunmurry, a suburb of Belfast, from 1978 until the company's bankruptcy in 1982. It produced 9,000 DeLorean DMC-12 cars.
The 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup was the first international motorsport event to be held in Ireland.
The Irish International Grand Prix was held for only three years from 1929.
The Circuit of Ireland Rally is an annual automobile rally, which was first held in 1931 making it the third oldest rally in the world.
Mondello Park, Ireland's only international motorsport venue, was established in 1968.