The most memorable motoring moments of 2021
From F1 controversy to the rise of the electric car, it was a momentous year
After a tough 2020 which saw car sales plummet globally and a number of motoring events cancelled, 2021 saw the motor industry slowly getting back into gear though still curtailed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
After car factories reopened following lockdowns, some were forced to shut their doors again temporarily or cut back production due to the global semiconductor shortage, leading to stock shortages on many models.
In spite of this, new-vehicle launches returned to some semblance of normality with many new cars and commercials introduced in 2021.
In the motorsport arena, high-profile series such as Formula One and MotoGP returned in full force after shortened calendars in 2020, but December’s Kyalami Nine-Hour was postponed to February when the Omicron coronavirus variant hit.
Motor News takes a look at some of the most memorable motoring moments of 2021:
The motor industry’s swing to electric cars
This year was a turning point in the rise of electric cars, with various countries and carmakers committed to phasing out internal combustion engines within a decade or two. Six major carmakers made it official by signing the Glasgow Declaration on Zero Emission Cars and Vans, a pledge to phase out fossil-fuel cars by 2040. They included General Motors, Ford, Volvo Cars, Jaguar Land Rover, China's BYD, and Mercedes-Benz.
Consumer uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) in SA remains low but the choice of vehicles keeps growing. Battery-powered cars launched locally this year included the BMW iX, Volvo XC40 Recharge, Audi E-tron and Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo.
Fuel price hikes
Petrol hit more than R20 a litre for the first time in December, a new record high in a year that has seen a series of hikes, and it now costs R1,014.50 to fill a 50l tank compared with R743 in January when a litre of 95 unleaded cost R14.86.
Oil prices and the rand-dollar exchange rate played their part, but the AA has called on the government to reduce fuel taxes to lessen the burden on consumers. Levies make up more than half of each litre of 95 octane petrol, 126% higher than a decade ago.
Instant success of the Toyota Corolla Cross
At the launch of the new locally-built Corolla Cross in early November, Toyota SA declared it planned to sell at least 20,000 units per year. It was a bold claim even by the standards of the country’s most popular car brand, but in its first month on sale the Corolla Cross shot into first place in the country’s best-selling passenger-car charts with 1,757 units sold, a solid start to justify the R2.4bn local-assembly investment.
About 35% of pre-orders were for the hybrid version, showing local consumers are happy to drive petrol-electrics if the price is right.
New Ford Ranger
In another major local investment, the wraps came off the long-awaited new-generation Ford Ranger bakkie.
With bold new “American pickup” styling, more power and smart new technology, the one-tonner will from next year be built at Ford SA’s plant in Silverton for the local and export markets in a R15.8bn investment. The plant will also manufacture the next-generation Volkswagen Amarok on a shared platform with the new Ranger.
Thato Magasa’s rise to the top of Mitsubishi
Thato Magasa became Mitsubishi SA’s first black CEO, succeeding Pedro Pereira. His rise to the top was an inspiring tale, coming through the ranks from blue-collar worker to car boss in just 12 years. At 32, the Soweto-born Magasa became the youngest person to be made CEO of a motor company in SA.
Brad Binder’s win in the rain on slicks
SA’s Brad Binder won a sensational home Austrian Grand Prix win for his KTM team on August 15 after a late gamble to stick to slick tyres on a wet and slippery track.
As rain hit and the top five pitted to switch to bikes shod with wet tyres, sixth-placed Binder stayed out and hung on in the downpour for three wild laps as he struggled to keep the sliding bike on the track.
In a year where KTM struggled, it was Binder’s sole victory of the year and his second in MotoGP.
Down-to-the-wire F1 battle
Hollywood couldn’t have scripted a more dramatic and controversial outcome to a championship that will be talked about for years.
After 21 races the two protagonists arrived at the Abu Dhabi season finale equal on points, and it all came down to the last lap. Just when Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton seemed to have his eighth drivers title in the bag, a safety car wiped out his comfortable lead over Max Verstappen and the young Red Bull driver, on fresher tyres, took victory and the F1 title in a last-lap sprint finish.
Mercedes cried foul, saying Verstappen was given an unfair advantage when race direction decided five lapped cars between the title rivals could get out of the way before racing resumed on the last lap.
Hamilton may never get over the pain of being ‘robbed’ of a record eighth Formula One title, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said on Thursday in comments that raised doubts about the driver’s future in the sport.
Last hurrahs for the Doctor and the Iceman
Seven-times MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi hung up his helmet aged 41, having amassed a record 89 wins and 199 podium finishes. “The Doctor” enjoyed a glittering 25-year career of popularising the sport.
Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari’s 2007 world champion, called time on his 19-season year Formula One career aged 42. Winner of 21 races, the “Iceman” remained a fan favourite even when moving to the less competitive Alfa Romeo team for his last few seasons.
RIP Johan van Zyl
Dr Johan van Zyl, executive chairman of Toyota SA, died on July 30 of Covid-19-related complications.
Van Zyl had a long career with the company beginning in 1993, and was appointed Toyota SA’s CEO in 2003. In 2015 he took on the role of CEO of Toyota Motor Europe (TME) until his retirement in early 2021.
For all his successes in the corporate world, what Van Zyl will be remembered for the most was his humanity — his ability to remember the name of each and every person he came into contact with, said the company.
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