Declining new vehicle sales leads to less – and older – vehicles on the road
Pieter Wessels

Are the roads less safe as a result?

New vehicle sales over the last decade have struggled to reach the levels enjoyed between 2005 and 2008, despite a bit of respite between 2012 and 2015. And the relatively lower levels of sales have been further impacted in the last two years by the measures taken by the government in response to Covid-19. This may lead one to believe that the roads are less safe, given that older vehicles have a higher likelihood to malfunction and cause accidents.

While this appears to be the case at first glance, the situation may not be as dire as it first appears and may, in fact, be as a result of lulls in demand which have skewed overall data. Lightstone Auto’s Managing Director, Pieter Wessels, breaks down the data.

This declining growth in the domestic vehicle population (or parc) bottomed out in 2020.

New vehicle sales vs total parc growth

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In addition to lower levels of growth in the vehicle parc, there has been a significant shift in the age of the vehicles. In 2012, 60% of the vehicle population was between 0 and 10 years old, and by 2014 this share had increased to 62%.

At the same stages in 2012 and 2014, the 11 to 20-year-old band made up 33% and 32% of the parc respectively. In the years since then, these shares have changed to the point where currently the sub-10-year age band only makes up 53% of the vehicle population, while the 11 to 20 band enjoys a 42% share.

All vehicles - age band share of parc last 10 years

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When viewing the Passenger market in isolation, the movements in the market are very similar to those demonstrated by the overall market because Passenger vehicles make up around two thirds of the overall vehicle population in South Africa, a share which hasn’t deviated much over the past decade.

Passenger vehicles’ share of parc over last 10 years

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If one were to compare the actual Passenger age band volumes for the two-year windows from 2012 to present, it becomes easier to track the performance of each band relative to the other years. While the volume of vehicles in the 21 to 30-year band has remained relatively constant, the 11 to 20-year group has grown steadily over the past 10 years, assisted by the ageing of the vehicles purchased in the 2005 to 2008 bubble. The 6 to 10-year band has fluctuated as the vehicles from both bubbles move through this age group, while the 0 to 5-year-old vehicles reached a peak in 2016 at the end of the 2012 to 2015 bubble and has been steadily shrinking over the course of the intervening years.

Passenger cars - age band split of parc last 10 years

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With the market growth expected in 2022, the youngest Passenger band should begin to recover in the next few years, once again allowing for a decrease in the average age of vehicles on the South African roads.

“So, to answer the question on hand, ‘no, the roads are not less safe’ – at least not as a result of the aging parc. While we all wish demand could stay sky-high all the time, that’s simply not possible. That’s what we’re seeing here: a decrease in demand has created a latent impact on the aggregate parc age. This doesn’t mean we’re seeing a higher number of unroadworthy vehicles, nor that the aggregate parc age will continue to increase.” says Wessels.