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GM pull-out: 6 car brands which left SA

2017-05-23 07:40

LEAVING SA: Chevrolet will phase out its models by the end of 2017. Image: Quickpic

Lance Branquinho

Port Elizabeth - General Motors has announced it intends to cease local manufacturing and selling of Chevrolet vehicles in South Africa the end of 2017.

Isuzu Motors intends to purchase GM's South African light commercial vehicle manufacturing operations.

Chevrolet is the latest brand to depart SA.

"Every time we refuel, we’ll remember them. The five that left us in this last decade..." says Lance Branquinho as he lists 6 car brands that left South Africa.

6 car brands which left SA:

1 Chevrolet (2017)

The brand which tried to be so South Africa, it even included the country’s favourite pastime in its marketing; ‘Braaivleis, sunny skies, rugby and Chevrolet,’ was the tagline four decades ago. Now, it is no more. 

Chevrolet’s failure in South Africa, after the brand relaunched here in 1997, was sadly predictable. A reputation built on cars such as the 4100 and special edition performance icons like the Can-Am, were terrifyingly at odds with Chevrolet's affordable, high-volume millennial strategy.

Lumina tried to stem the tide of disappointment with some Chevrolet authenticity but when they attested to rebrand what were Daewoos, as Chevrolets, you knew failure was inevitable. Affordable cars, yes, but decidedly average ones. In a market where most people still prefer to buy German compact cars, of similar price and older technology. 

Everything was sacrificed at the altar of affordable volume and as such the brand dilution was of an epic scale. The obsession with rebranded Daewoos would be Chevrolet’s South African waterloo.

AutoTrader SA CEO George Mienie says: "While change is always difficult, consumer demand remains. Where certain brands may suffer, opportunities are created for others. I am hopeful that General Motors talks with PSA will result in Opel having an even brighter future in South Africa.”

AutoTrader SA's Ane Theron says: "How very unfortunate that GM is disinvesting from South Africa - such an accomplished and value-packed range of vehicles, with safety spec right on par with the more premium brands. It came as rather a shock, given the local Opel Astra success story."

Chad Luckhoff says: "General Motors SA closing its doors at the end of 2017 is the sad end of an era. With the PSA acquisition, can’t say we didn’t see it coming, we were however, expecting it to pan out differently. It’s personally disheartening when a great product like Opel / Chevrolet loses out to those brands with more “status”.


            The Opel Astra was crowned as the 2017 South African Car of the Year earlier in March. Image: AutoTrader SA




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2 SEAT (2008)

Spanish VWs. In Europe, these are interestingly styled VWs, with all the implied engineering excellence and very popular as affordable hot hatches. 

In South Africa, they were marketed as Spanish Alfa Romeos – which was always going to be a rather disingenuous idea. The 2008 global financial crisis didn’t help either, effectively hastening VW’s decision to kill the brand in South Africa.

To Seat’s credit, it had a local racing team, and they were pretty cars. Fast too, for the time, Leon Cupras were good for 177kW when Golf GTis made a whole lot less. But as a business case, you never try and compete with Golf or Polo, even if you are owned by the same company. 

                                 Seat's Leon Cupra was a favourite in South Africa. Image: Seat

3 Saab 2010 (termination 2015)

The one which left. Then died. 

Amazingly comfortable cars, built to ridiculous levels of craftsmanship, with all manner of bizarre - and sensible - aviation-themed cockpit technology. Saab was clever but it wasn't German -  and it was FWD, which is something South African luxury sedan buyers will never pay a premium for. 

Relaunched by GMSA in 2004, it was dead by 2010. A mere trickle of sales ensures exclusivity and owners love them, very few Saabs trade. Could be a future range of classics, as the brand is now dead, with Spyker, the Chinese and venture capital all attempting to resuscitate it. To no avail. At least we still have the fighter jet the SAAF bought. 

                                                                               Image: Saab

4 Cadillac (2010)

An American tragedy and precursor to what would follow nearly a decade after. As part of a newly US government recapitalised GM, the strategy was to deliver any RHD GM product to all markets. 

South Africa duly received Cadillac CTS and STS – and they were not awful. Not at all. Especially the CTS, which was a very compelling A6/5 Series/E-Class rival at the time it arrived here, in 2008. 

Styling was perhaps a touch too daring, but it was well built and with a 229kW/375Nm 3.5-litre V6, quick enough too. Then there was the price, for comparable performance – and less standard equipment – you’d have to spend R100k more, for something German. 

Few of the American car stereotypes applied. It was comfortable yet agile, a rewarding drive and faultless cruiser. Yet by the end of 2010, Cadillac South Africa as no more. Low volumes were blamed, but the truth was that instead of nurturing Cadillac as a rival to the German luxury brands, at a time of exceptional Jaguar weakness, GMSA sacrificed it to focus on high-volume Chevrolets. Which were, of course, Daewoos.

5 Daihatsu - 2015

Possibly the most reliable cars ever sold in South Africa, and brilliant if you lived in the Joburg or Cape Town CBD. Daihatsu’s legend was established on Japanese Kei-cars (which mean they’re really small), and as South Africa urbanised and fuel became more expensive, they gained popularity. 

Effectively unbreakable, the Charade, Sirion and even madcap retro-styled taxi lookalike Materia, were all charmingly endearing compact hatchbacks. Daihatsu was so committed to South Africa, it even built a local special edition Materia turbo, with amazing turbo lag and boost acoustics – as a branding exercise to appease the country’s obsession with hot hatches. Bless them for doing that.

And they even had a compact SUV. In a market, currently impossible to saturate with SUV offerings, it’s amazing to think what a company with Terios, which had some credible off-road ability, could have done…

By 2015 the unthinkable happened and Daihatsu announced it would leave. The decision to abandon South Africa was not an unpredictable or isolated one. Daihatsu had already retracted the brand from other RHD markets such as Australia and New Zealand.

It was a very peculiar and sad departure, for a brand that had established itself as a true compact car specialist, with keen pricing and Japanese build quality. Worst part of all? We’ll never know how good the Copen is. 

6 Citroen (2016)

French family infighting. It’s not pretty and claimed Citroen. 

The French sibling to Peugeot had traditionally been known as a purveyor of depreciation disaster products, which also happened to be impossibly stylish, with brilliant MPVs and inarguable WRC motorsport heritage. 

Problem is: South Africans don’t care for MPVs and much less for any WRC lineage. A huge pity, as the DS5 will perhaps be one of the most striking vehicles ever sold in locally. 

The introduction of an affordable crossover-type offering in Cactus had all the makings of success, wooing those just shy of Mini financing. But it was not to be. Peugeot was selected as the brand to survive South Africa’s French-car indifference late last year, which must have been a very prickly issue for those millennials who had made their Cactus purchases already. 

     The Citroen Cactus' quirky looks were an acquired taste but most South Africans fell in love with it. Image: Citroen



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