Picture: iSTOCK
Picture: iSTOCK

New-vehicle sales achieved their first year-on-year improvement in April, though not by enough to suggest real recovery is on the way.

Car sales grew by 3.9% compared to April 2018, from 24,054 to 24,989. The total market, including commercial vehicles, improved by 0.7%, from 36,528 to 36,794. For the first four months of the year, however, cars were still 6.2% behind the same stage in 2018 last year — 112,511 against 119,898. The overall market was 3.7% in arrears, down from 177,797 to 171,242.

This is a traditionally difficult time of year to draw market conclusions, because of shifting Easter and school holiday dates. However, it would be unfair to deny motor companies and their dealers a momentary sigh of relief after such a miserable start to 2019. Car sales, particularly, were awful in the first three months. Luxury cars are down 30% on 2018, said Standard Bank’s Cyril Zhungu.

Mike Mabasa, CEO of the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of SA (Naamsa), said April sales were a “welcome surprise”, but Zhungu said there are still tough times ahead for the motor industry. He said the government can alleviate the situation with bold post-election economic and job-creation policies to improve business confidence but, realistically, the market will remain constricted for most of this year.

Naamsa said: “Consumer and business confidence levels are low [and] household disposable income remains under pressure due to rising costs of living. Domestic demand for new vehicles, particularly cars, will remain under pressure in coming months.”. 

Export demand, however, continues to snowball. Shipments grew 53.8% in April from a year earlier, from 21,519 to 33,090. For the first four months of 2019, the improvement was 30.5%, from 93,338 to 121,803.

Naamsa called it an “admirable performance”, while Zhungu said: “Export production is underpinning the SA motor industry.”

After three months of miserable sales, the new-vehicle market showed marginal growth in April. Figures released by the department of trade and industry on Thursday show that car sales increased by 3.9% from the same period in 2018, and the overall market, including commercial vehicles, by 0.7%.

It is much too soon, however, for motor companies and their dealers to draw conclusions. By the end of April, new-car sales were still 6.2% behind the same stage last year: 112,511 compared to 119,898.

The overall market was 3.7% lower at 171,242.

Still, any growth is good news after such a bad start. Car sales of 24,989 in April beat 2018’s 24,054. Include trucks and buses, and it was 36,794, compared to March 2018’s 36,528.

Vehicle exports continued their record-breaking push in April, growing 53.8% from 2018, to 33,090. For the first four months of 2019, the improvement was 30.5%, to 121,803.