NADA Comment: Challenging month for South Africa's auto industry
Brandon Cohen, National Chairperson of NADA

The National Automobile Dealers' Association (NADA) reports another challenging month for South Africa's motor industry as economic pressure and political uncertainty continue to impede growth. According to Brandon Cohen, Chairperson of NADA, the total market in February reflects a 0.9% decline compared to the same month last year, continuing a trend that started in August 2023.

The market, totalling 44,749 units, faced headwinds from the recent fuel price increase and anticipation of another hike next week. The budget speech further strained consumer pockets, compounded by the looming general election. Reserve Bank Governor statements on maintaining high interest rates have added to the prevailing negative sentiment.

"Despite these challenges and passenger car sales dipping by 3.1%, there are some positive aspects,” said Cohen. “Light commercial vehicles experienced a 2.5% growth. The heavy truck market showed robust demand with a 14% month-on-month increase. Dealer sales accounted for 37,913 units, or 84,7% of total sales, indicating some consumer appetite, supported by dealership incentives."

Exporting manufacturers saw a bright spot, with built-up unit exports increasing by 27.5% to 39,517 units, offering a glimmer of hope amidst domestic challenges.

"We observe a trend of consumers downsizing and conducting extensive research into pricing and financing options. Affordability remains a crucial factor in purchasing decisions. South Africans are increasingly turning to more budget-friendly vehicles due to economic challenges, high interest rates, and escalating fuel costs,” Cohen commented.

The local market is becoming increasingly competitive, with a growing number of Asian participants. Chinese brands are making a significant impact in both the passenger car and overall truck markets. Statistics from naamsa highlight a shift towards Chinese-manufactured vehicles, driven by competitive pricing, quality, and high-tech specifications.

This trend is reshaping the competitive landscape, posing challenges for traditional premium dealerships. The premium segment is under pressure, with customers shifting from new vehicles to demos and pre-owned cars. Some loyal premium brand customers extend maintenance plans, but the majority are either buying down, waiting or transitioning to pre-owned vehicles, leading to significant growth in the pre-owned car market compared to new cars.

Market dynamics, influenced by economic conditions and changing consumer preferences, are causing a re-evaluation of traditional brand loyalty. Consumers are adapting to budget-friendly options, including Chinese-manufactured vehicles, marking a significant shift in the industry landscape

NADA is a constituent association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI).