This year will be one to forget for many in the local vehicle industry, especially those on the front line: the dealers. Sales of new cars plummeted 12.3% to the end of November. The same was true in most segments of the truck market, although buses were up 12.6% for the year to date. Overall the industry dropped 11%.

It is dire news for the new-car market, creating a ripple effect through all elements of the chain, including finance.

DRIVE ON BY: Declining new car sales reflected serious economic issues in 2016.
DRIVE ON BY: Declining new car sales reflected serious economic issues in 2016.

Sadly, it might also have had an effect on budgets, which affected media, with the closure of one of SA’s best-know motoring titles in 2016.

We also said goodbye to brands. Just last week we broke the news that Citroen vehicles will no longer be available in the country. Instead, the company is going to focus on Peugeot models, while hoping to find a joint-venture partner that can re-establish Citroen within the next three years. Dodge and Chrysler announced they would not make their new models in right-hand drive, effectively putting an end to their presence in SA, too.

Decisions made in the upper echelons of government had a dramatic impact on the industry, with exchange rate issues leading to further price hikes. Higher car prices and tighter household budgets were major factors in the decline in sales, but the flipside has been a huge increase in sales of used cars.

Then there is that buzz word "downsizing". Technology is being packed into smaller and cheaper cars more than ever before, and you no longer have to buy luxury to get all the toys.

Technology was also at the forefront of making 2016 a year for automotive revolution. The internal combustion engine will be with us for some time, but car makers ploughed billions into the next era, including electric cars, battery technology and hydrogen fuel cells.

Technology advanced rapidly this year.   Picture: VOLVO
Technology advanced rapidly this year. Picture: VOLVO

It has also been the year of autonomous tech. From lane-keeping assistance systems to trials of fully self-driving vehicles, 2016 has seen some of the biggest advancements in this area. It has been a year of predictions, a year in which we can genuinely foresee a time when you will be reading Business Day while the car drives itself to your office.

It is the first year in which we can actually see countries banning vehicles powered by fossil fuel, with Norway proposing a ban on the internal combustion engine as it considers forcing motorists to adopt alternative fuel vehicles in the next decade.

The vehicle industry has jumped on to the app bandwagon in a big way. It has not been about horsepower or even fuel consumption, but whether your new car has an infotainment system or can mirror your smartphone. There are in-car apps for navigation, checking the fuel in your car while you are sitting in a cafe and, of course, streaming audio from all corners of the globe.

The world is advancing rapidly, but it is another year in which SA has fallen further behind. The world is developing infrastructure to allow it to adapt to a changing automotive and transport landscape, but from basics such as road markings to charging electric vehicles, SA is nowhere near ready or even showing signs of making a concerted effort. The private sector is stepping up where it can, but the government still has its foot on the brake when it comes to allowing the wheels of the future to turn.

And in spite of its holiday campaigns and the occasional public relations event, the government is still not doing enough to save thousands of lives when it comes to road safety. We need 24/7 law enforcement that is trustworthy and free of corruption. It needs to be proactive, seeking out transgressors rather than parking on the side of the road and hoping to catch a few. We have seen more and more people breaking the basic rules, often putting lives in danger, simply because they see others getting away with it.

More still needs to be done to improve road safety in SA.
More still needs to be done to improve road safety in SA.

Many motorists need to change their mindset, and the government and its agencies must do the same.

As our trip to Sweden at the beginning of the year showed, the international expertise exists for us to use and make significant changes, but the will is just not there for many.

There were plenty of positives, though. SA got a new home for motorsport in the form of the international-standard Kyalami racetrack. Motorsport itself is still in a bad way, but, as always, those who compete at grass-roots level are showing us how it can be done.

SA also got a new world champion. Brad Binder showed exceptional talent and bravery as he dominated the Moto3 world championship to take the first world motorsport title for SA in decades.

SA got its first world motorsport champion in decades, Brad Binder, in 2016.   Picture: RED BULL
SA got its first world motorsport champion in decades, Brad Binder, in 2016. Picture: RED BULL

Car manufacturers made significant investments in the country, too, in spite of competition on the rest of the continent. BMW will produce the next-generation X3 at its plant in Rosslyn, and Ford has already started production on its expanded Everest range.

Mercedes, Mitsubishi and Renault are all hoping Nissan will finally make an announcement that it will build the new Navara in SA so they can jump on their production line with their Navara-based models.

That announcement was recently delayed again until early 2017 while Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn sorted out some Brexit-related manufacturing issues, but we still expect him to sign it off.

Beijing Automotive started work on its new production facility in the Eastern Cape.

As you will read on our back page, the Electric Vehicle Industry Association has been formed to try to get SA more involved and to fast-track infrastructure developments. At the same time, Impala Platinum is behind a programme to try to make SA one of the key players in the fuel cell industry.

While it is easy to become depressed by negative sales figures, poor road safety and government ambivalence, it is also easy to be positive when looking at the massive technological developments taking place internationally, many of which are already trickling into the South African market.

We can look at the work being done behind the scenes to understand that the private sector is as committed as ever and we can applaud individual achievements. This year has had its issues, but it has also been a year of promise.

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