Things went swimmingly for Suzuki last year with a nearly 38% rise in sales. Picture: SUPPLIED
Things went swimmingly for Suzuki last year with a nearly 38% rise in sales. Picture: SUPPLIED

In a tough year, the South African new-vehicle market was down  1% in 2018, but, within that, passenger car sales dropped 0.8% and light commercials (including bakkies) dropped a significant 2.4% compared to the year before.

The National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of SA (Naamsa) says the decline reflects the weak macro-economic environment, pressure on consumers’ disposable income and fragile business and consumer confidence. The increase in interest rates in November didn’t help.

As we look back on the passenger car market in 2018, there were some winners. The biggest players, Toyota and Volkswagen, saw increases in figures and there were some big increases for smaller players too, like Suzuki and Volvo.

But there were big losers too. The year was not kind to Ford or Mercedes-Benz and nor for the passionate brands in the Fiat Chrysler Group, while Indian marque Tata saw the biggest decline.

Here’s how each automotive company fared in 2018 new passenger-car sales:

AUDI — down 16.2%

Last year  was another tough year for Audi in SA with  the car manufacturer continuing to sit well behind its premium German rivals. The A3 was its best performer, accounting for nearly a third of sales. Starved of new product, the company will be looking forward to new models heading to the country in 2019 including the new A1, Q3 and Q8. The new A4 is also under development and behind the scenes the brand will be charging up to introduce the all-electric E-tron SUV towards the end of the year.

ABARTH — down 50%

Fiat has split off its Abarth numbers in the sales figures, which seems odd given that it could do with all it can get to bolster the Fiat numbers, although sales of the Abarth 500, 595 and 124 Spider totalled just 34 units in 2018.

ALFA ROMEO — down 40.9%

Despite great new products in the form of the Giulia and Stelvio, Alfa sales continued to struggle in 2018. We heard rumours once again that it might disappear from our market but Alfa always seems to manage to hang in there. The Alfisti will be looking forward to the arrival of the Nurburgring-taming Stelvio Quadrafoglio in 2019 but otherwise, expect another quiet year for the brand.

BENTLEY — up 44%

Bentley sales rose in 2018 to see 88 models hit the roads of SA. The bulk of these were the Bentayga at 62 units, but the super-luxury SUV has not been the global hit the company wanted. It also introduced the new Continental GT. Bentley celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2019 and has new models on the way.

BMW Group — up 0.4%

BMW is puffing out its chest (or should that be kidney grille) in pride after not only seeing its sales rise in 2018, but it knocked major rival Mercedes-Benz off its perch to become the top premium vehicle brand in the country. The 0.4% increase includes both BMW and Mini. The company also began production of the new X3 at its plant in Rosslyn. This year will see the introduction of some major new models, not least of which is the latest-generation 3 Series and the massive X7.

DATSUN — up 8.6%

Datsun sales continued to rise in 2018 with the Go being its most popular model in spite of continued criticism of its safety. It introduced a safer version at the end of the year.

FERRARI — up 3.9%

Ferrari introduced not just the new Portofino but also the 488 Spider and the GTC4Lusso in 2018. In total it sold 79 vehicles, including a few of the super fast 488 Pista.

FIAT — down 21.5%

Fiat sold some 500s, accounting for 305 of its total 668 sales during the year. Then there were 85 of the 500X models, too. So together the 500 made well over half of all Fiat sales. The rest went to the Tipo and Panda.

FORD — down 28%

Ford sales dropped in 2018 in spite of the introduction of a number of key new products including the latest-generation Figo, which was its top seller. Numbers were down for the locally built Everest SUV, its second-best seller, while the new EcoSport that arrived during the year was its third most successful model. While sales of many of its models declined, one that increased was actually the Kuga. This year will see the introduction of the new Focus. We are talking passenger cars here, but the new Ranger is also on its way this year, including the first ever Raptor version.

HONDA up 4.8%

Honda is a mystery to us. Its Civic was once a stalwart of the market, its Jazz a favourite mom’s taxi. It has fallen somewhat out of favour and while sales went up to 7,530 units in 2018, it needs to regain some ground that it has lost over the past few years. Still, it introduced the new Civic Type-R and we rather like it.

HYUNDAI — up 2.4%

Hyundai sales were up in 2018, a year in which it was the third-biggest player in the passenger-car market with sales of 32,288. Its biggest seller remains its smallest, in the form of the Grand i10, which more than doubled its sales in the year. The Kona crossover was introduced late in the year but expect some big numbers for that in 2019.

JAGUAR — up 5.7%

Jaguar has the next generations of the XE and XJ under development to match its global CEO’s prediction that the sedan market will make a comeback, but we’re not convinced and 2018 was again a year of SUVs for the leaping cat. The introduction of the new E-Pace saw 740 sold, more than double that of the larger F-Pace and it also sold four of the new all-electric I-Pace, although we suspect they are demonstrators ahead of its imminent introduction to the market.

JEEP — down 54.8%

A terrible year for Jeep, with sales down to 768 models. Grand Cherokee was its top seller, followed by the Wrangler, but a new generation of the famous trail-rated off-roader will arrive in SA in 2019. 

KIA — down 0.2%

Kia sales dipped slightly in 2018, with the importer selling 15,941 vehicles,  about half that of its sister company, Hyundai. Its top seller was the diminutive Picanto, accounting for over 9,000 of its sales. Numbers for the Rio declined in 2018 but with a 1.2% overall passenger market share, it’s not far off the VW Golf with 1.4%. Sales of the Sportage increased, thanks to the introduction of some new derivatives, and 23 units of its first sports GT, the Stinger hit the streets during the year.

LAND ROVER — up 1.7%

While we all wait for the introduction of the new Evoque and Defender, Land Rover has been reliant on its upper-end models. Range Rover sales continue to remain steady but the Discovery and Velar numbers are not as impressive as the vehicles’ capabilities. The top seller is the Sandton favourite, the Range Rover Sport, which saw an increase in sales to account for nearly a quarter of all Land Rover sales in 2018.

LEXUS — down 7%

Lexus introduced a new flagship LS model in 2018, as well as the sporty LC, but sales further down the line-up remain mediocre at best with 823 Lexus models leaving showrooms. Its bestseller was the NX SUV, but that could change in 2019 with the introduction of the smaller UX crossover.

MAHINDRA — down 3.0%

Mahindra sales declined in 2018 but it continues to sell its crossover and SUV in decent numbers. Its top seller was the KUV with sales up to 851 units.

MASERATI — down 47.6%

We all love the glorious sound of a Maserati, but things are not going well for the brand at the moment. Its sales dropped in SA in 2018 in spite of the introduction of the Levante S petrol model, a far better option than the diesel. Pricing is a key issue that has moved all but the most passionate Maserati fans away from the brand. It’ll be hoping it can rev things up in 2019.

MAZDA — up 9.7%

Mazda has been on the up since its separation from Ford and it increased its sales figures again in 2018. Its focus on delivering good-looking, quality vehicles like the Mazda3 and updated
CX-5 has definitely paid off. The CX-5 was its top seller in the year, followed by the CX-3 crossover and Mazda3. We expect the all-new Mazda3 to impress again when it arrives in SA later in 2019.

MERCEDES-BENZ — down 22%

Mercedes-Benz sales were down 22% last year despite the introduction of the impressive A-Class (pictured). Picture: DENIS DROPPA
Mercedes-Benz sales were down 22% last year despite the introduction of the impressive A-Class (pictured). Picture: DENIS DROPPA

In spite of a number of requests to Mercedes-Benz for a breakdown of its figures, the company declined to respond, as it has for a number of years. What we do know is that in 2018 it lost its position as the number one premium car brand in SA to BMW, in spite of the introduction of significant new models like the latest-generation A-Class.

MITSUBISHI — up 5.7%

Heavily reliant on its light commercials, Mitsubishi continues to sell a small number of the ageing Pajero, while its superb new Pajero Sport did well in 2018 with sales more than doubling.

NISSAN — up 21.4%

Nissan will be happy with a significant increase in sales to 15,103 units. No surprise that the corporate fleet favourite, the Almera, was its top seller. The introduction of the new Micra saw a big jump in sales for the supermini, while the company has taken a leaf out of Toyota’s and VW’s books by selling the old Micra, rebadged as the Micra Active and sales were up there too. The Qashqai and X-Trail continue to be strong sellers too.

OPEL — down 13.8%

In its second year as an independent importer, Opel SA saw its sales drop even in a year in which it introduced new models like the Crossland X and Grandland X. The Corsa was the top model accounting for over a third of all Opel’s sales, but there were big declines for Astra and Mokka X. The company will introduce a number of new derivatives in 2019 and also return to the commercial vehicle market.

PEUGEOT — up 26.7%

The French marque is still hanging in there, albeit by the tips of its manicured fingertips. Sales increased to over 1,000 units for  2018 with the biggest mover being the 3008 crossover.

PORSCHE — up 2.6%

Porsche celebrated its 70th anniversary last year and enjoyed a good 2018, boosted by the introduction of the latest-generation Cayenne. This year will see the arrival of the new 992 generation of the iconic 911. Meanwhile, the company is gearing up to introduce its first all-electric sportscar, the Taycan to SA.

RENAULT — up 12.7%

Renault’s massive sales success is the budget Kwid, regardless of what we or anyone else has to say about its safety, or lack thereof. The Kwid accounted for a massive 9,695 of the company’s total 25,433 sales in 2018. Its Clio and Sandero continue to do well and its crossover and SUV models in the form of the Duster and Captur are still enjoying reasonable success. Sadly, for now, it has shelved plans to bring the sporty Alpine brand to SA.

SUBARU — up 2.9%

Subaru continues to make great cars for those who are in the know. Sales were up in 2018 at just over 1,000 units with its XV crossover its top seller, followed by the Forester.

SUZUKI — up 37.8%

Another record year for Suzuki SA in 2018 with sales up 37.8%. It introduced the new Swift, accounting for over a third of sales and that loveable rogue, the Jimny in 2018. The latter is proving very popular and has a long waiting list. Sales of the award-winning Ignis more than doubled and the new Dzire was introduced as the sedan version of the Swift. The company will finally introduce its Boosterjet turbo engines to SA in 2019 and launch a number of upgraded models.

TATA — down 79.2%

Tata sales in SA plummeted nearly 80% last year. The Bolt was the brand’s biggest seller and moved just 157 units. Picture: SUPPLIED
Tata sales in SA plummeted nearly 80% last year. The Bolt was the brand’s biggest seller and moved just 157 units. Picture: SUPPLIED

Tata sold some cars and by that we really do mean some. It’s a tiny blip on the market radar and seems to have given up all hope of being anything more.

TOYOTA — up 2.1%

Toyota passenger car sales were slightly up in 2018, a good achievement in a difficult year. As usual, the company groups old Corolla, new Corolla and Auris together in its sales figures, which is a little unfair, and together they were its top sellers — although we suspect the bulk were the Uber favourite, the Quest. Second to the Corolla trio was the Fortuner at over 13,000 sales, with the Etios in third. There is some exciting news from Toyota for its line-up in 2019, with the reveal this month of the new Supra which is heading to SA. There will be a new Corolla too.

VOLKSWAGEN — up 7.6%

The Polo helped VW gain almost 8% in 2018, and was the country’s best selling car with 29,789 units sold. Picture: SUPPLIED
The Polo helped VW gain almost 8% in 2018, and was the country’s best selling car with 29,789 units sold. Picture: SUPPLIED

The top-selling passenger car brand in SA, again, Volkswagen is still the nation’s favourite, particularly when it comes to the Polo. The new Polo, introduced early in 2018, and the old one in the form of the Polo Vivo together held a massive 40.5% share of their segment and 14.2% of the overall passenger car market. They also accounted for nearly 77% of VW South Africa’s passenger car sales. The Tiguan SUV increased its sales in the year, but numbers dropped for the Golf, possibly because the new Polo is just as good in some areas but probably due to the expected arrival in 2019 of the Golf 8. VW will also have high expectations for its T-Cross crossover when it launches later in 2019.

VOLVO — up 36.9%

It was a big jump in numbers for Volvo in 2018 with its sales of 2,679 vehicles. This is mainly due to the introduction of the new XC40 small crossover, but the top seller for the Swedish marque was its popular XC60, which sold 741 units. Expect news on some new models during the course of 2019 as it expands its CMA (Compact Modular Architecture) small-vehicle platform.