Sales of most car companies down in 2017
Mark Smyth reports on who were the winners and losers in the vehicle sales charts last year
Passenger car sales might have ended 2017 in positive territory but it was not a good year for most of the industry.
Overall, sales were up 1.90% for the year at 368,068 units but sales of most car companies dropped, in some cases quite significantly.
Light commercial vehicle (LCV) sales rose marginally, 2.60%, and because so many people drive a double-cab bakkie as their daily runner, we are grouping passenger car and LCV sales together as we look at 2017’s big winners and losers.
It is no surprise that the biggest sellers were Ford, Toyota and Volkswagen. Ford pushed 71,220 vehicles through its various channels in 2017, but its figures were down 3.57% on 2016. After the Kuga fire issue of 2016-17, sales of its once popular crossover dropped significantly. Even with the introduction of an updated model in the second half of the year, sales of the Kuga plummeted from 2,428 in 2016 to 853 in 2017. In December, Ford sold just 66 Kugas.
But the big fight for Ford was with Toyota in the bakkie segment. As in 2016, Toyota still stayed on top in 2017, selling 36,422 Hilux models compared with Ranger sales of 32,786, making Hilux the best-selling vehicle in the country in 2017. Ford made the big announcement that it will be making the Ranger Raptor in SA from 2019, when we also expect a facelift of the Ranger to come to the market, so Ford could be giving itself an edge in the marketing game.
Overall Toyota was the biggest force in the market again in 2017, selling 123,559 passenger cars and LCVs and increasing its sales by 9.35%. Volkswagen was a long way behind with 76,154 vehicles, up 1.71% on 2016 but with sales of its Amarok a fraction of those of its big bakkie rivals, it is worth looking at how it stacked up in the passenger car market.
The Volkswagen Polo eclipsed everything else, ensuring VW remained the top passenger car brand in SA. The company sold 28,402 Polo Vivos in 2017, marginally down on 2016, and a further 22,916 Polos. Polo sales dropped only slightly but remained high, despite the fact that the new Polo will be launched in SA next week.
Toyota tries to keep up, and here we have our usual issue with the brand that they unfairly group together Corolla, Auris and Quest sales to show a figure of 19,264 units.
Most of these were Corolla Quest models though, in part thanks to the success of Uber and other taxi services. But if we play Toyota’s game and group Polo Vivo and Polo sales together then with 51,318 units sold, the Polo totally blew everything else away to be the top-selling nameplate, accounting for just more than 14% of the entire passenger car market in 2017.
The biggest percentage gains came from the smaller players with Alfa Romeo increasing its sales 92.31%. Sounds impressive, but this translates into sales of 225 vehicles, mainly due to the introduction of the new Giulia sedan and Stelvio SUV.
Chinese importer JMC Landwind had the biggest increase at 116.12% to 134 units, mainly its bakkies.
Suzuki was also a winner in 2017, increasing its sales by 56.94% to 8,833 vehicles. It introduced its new Ignis small crossover, which has been hailed as a great offering in a budget-conscious market. GWM’s introduction of the Haval SUV brand also seems to have paid dividends with combined sales up 57.78% to 2,381 units.
There is a fight in the lower end of the market between two models that we strongly feel should not even be on sale. We are talking about the Datsun Go and Renault Kwid, both of which fail to meet acceptable international safety standards. Datsun saw its sales increase a hefty 42.87% to 6,915 units, helped by the introduction of the Datsun Go+. This model was tested in 2017 by safety organisation Euro NCAP and barely achieved one star for safety and even then it was only because the A-pillar had been strengthened and an airbag included.
There is no such strengthening for the passengers.
The Renault Kwid was only introduced late in 2016 so it’s no surprise that its sales increased dramatically in 2017 to 8,027 units helping to push Renault’s overall sales up by 20.98%. In Brazil, consumers were outraged when the Kwid received a low safety rating, forcing Renault to make the car safer. When it was retested it received three stars. There have been no such improvements to the Kwid in SA and little protest against the sale of this car here.
So while the Datsun Go and Renault Kwid might be winners in the sales numbers, we put them both into the loser category and continue to call for their safety to be improved or for the two car makers concerned to stop taking advantage of low legislated standards and low-income earners.
Meanwhile, early in the year General Motors announced its imminent departure from SA but it still sold 11,399 Chevrolet models, although down 44.19%.
Things were not good for Opel either that sold 3,397 but with retailers grouping together to keep the brand alive in SA, we will be watching how well it does in 2018. Isuzu continues, and the brand saw its bakkie sales up 11.22% in 2017 to 18,178.
There was also an interesting battle between South Korean siblings Hyundai and Kia in 2017. Hyundai sales declined 4.61% to 35,059 vehicles but Kia sales increased 9.67% to 17,786 units. This will be a battle to keep an eye on in 2018.
Among the big losers in the market in 2017, the biggest drop was 100% for Chrysler as the Fiat-owned brand left SA and with Dodge also leaving, its sales dropped 50%.
Citroen also left in 2017 and its sales declined 98.18% from 440 units in 2016 to just eight in 2017. We thought Ssangyong had already gone too but it still managed to sell five units in 2017, a drop of 77.27%. Officially Nissan says its luxury brand Infiniti has not left SA but really it has and sales dropped 63.09% to just 41 units. Chinese car maker Chery saw a decline of 58.83% to just 184 units.
It was also not a great year for the premium market, with Audi sales down 6.84%, BMW down 24.20% and Mercedes-Benz down 12.62%. Mercedes was still the top premium seller though with 20,901 units sold. Most manufacturers and importers will be looking for positive numbers in 2018 and hoping to see an upturn in the economy and improvements in exchange rates. There will be some significant new models too, not least of all in the popular small hatch segment with the arrival of the new Ford Fiesta and new VW Polo.
Will we see the introduction of incentives to get people out of older cars and into new models? Probably, but what we don’t expect to see is a big switch to electric and alternative powertrain models — we are a long way from joining that road.