YEAR IN REVIEW
A year for new ways of thinking
2017 has been a year of tech but also a year of concerns
In our review of 2016, we described it as a year to forget for many ... 2017 has not been much different. It has been tough for the car industry and even tougher for the consumer.
In January the inland price of 95 unleaded petrol was R13.33 a litre. It will close the year at R14.76 and we expect further significant increases in 2018.
Household budgets are tight and this has impacted heavily on sales of new passenger vehicles, down 6.8% for the year to the end of November. The pre-owned market continues to be a major benefactor of the decline.
The budget market is doing well but at the expense of safety. So it was good to see Global NCAP and the Automobile Association teaming up this year to conduct the first ever official crash tests of five entry-level vehicles on sale in SA. Sadly the results showed that some car companies are putting profits before safety, a situation that would be unacceptable in many international markets but one which the South African government continues to allow.
With the festive season here, safety on our roads will again be in the news, but 2017 has been a year in which well over 14,000 people will have lost their lives on SA’s roads. The situation is unacceptable and the government is not doing enough.
We will see roadblocks set up by law enforcement agencies, but many will be to collect outstanding revenue and not for road safety. At the same time, it is not just about the agencies whose job it is to protect us.
Lack of respect for the law and for the safety of others is seen every day with motorists ignoring the rules and putting their selfish attitudes ahead of others. Just this week I saw vehicles queuing down the wrong side of the road in Sandton as selfish idiots who clearly felt there would be no consequence to their actions risked causing accidents while trying to avoid the congestion caused by another road crash. The mentality of these individuals is shocking, but it would not happen if enforcement and consequences were more prevalent.
It was also a year in which SA said goodbye to another manufacturer and this one was a big one. General Motors has closed up shop, putting an end to Chevrolet and its sunny skies and braaivleis. Isuzu Motors Japan stepped in to save the plant in Port Elizabeth and continues to manufacture and sell the Isuzu KB and Isuzu Trucks.
Opel dealers all got together too, to ensure the future of this once popular brand in the country. There are rumours that another name will soon be leaving our shores, but only time will tell on that one.
Infrastructure has also been a huge problem in 2017. Local governments around the country are struggling to meet the demand as the effects of urban migration continue to be felt.
In Johannesburg, more than 700 of the 900 bridges are described as being in poor or very poor condition, while the roads continue to deteriorate due to a lack of sufficient funding after decades of neglect.
Meanwhile, the car population continues to grow, albeit at a slightly slower pace than we were seeing a few years ago.
Downsizing continues to be a real thing, but it is being made easier in some cases as smaller models actually get bigger.
BMW will officially begin production of its new X3 in the first quarter of 2018, but this model has grown significantly since the first generation.
BMW is not alone — many SUV models in particular are getting bigger as the market expands, but it is the technology that makes downsizing easier. The tech once only available in upper segment vehicles is filtering down to smaller models.
This year saw the reveal of the new Volkswagen Polo, a car that can be packed with everything from lane departure warning systems to a full connected infotainment system and even a digital instrument cluster.
It all makes downsizing cooler than ever.
What we haven’t seen though is an uptake in electric vehicles (EV). Discussions are taking place regarding how to boost the market but the lack of charging infrastructure, concerns about the reliability of Eskom’s electricity delivery and the long distances many travel, together with the high capital cost of going the EV route, are hampering the market.
After the Dieselgate scandal, 2017 saw many countries around the world put future policies in place to limit sales not just of diesel vehicles but of the internal combustion engine altogether. Some of the decisions are questionable of course but so far SA, in spite of its commitment to reduce emissions, has done little at policy level.
But it has been a year in which the reality of many
new technologies has become apparent. Just how much lithium is available for EVs? What are the real life cycle costs of the vehicles and how clean is an EV in a country like SA where we are so reliant on fossil fuel power stations?
Autonomous cars also came in for scrutiny as 2017 progressed. Legislators woke up to the reality of a world in which computers get to make life or death decisions. Car makers and governments pondered how autonomous vehicles will cope in a world that is still dominated by vehicles driven by humans. And who will fund the massive investments required in new infrastructure.
2017 has been a fascinating year for tomorrow, but also one where we have had to address the realities of today.