Johannesburg - News that another vehicle manufacturer is to enter the South African market immediately raises the question: Does the public need more manufacturers and models to choose from? There are currently 50 different marquees available in SA.
Another Chinese manufacturer, Geely International Corporation, announced that it had received approval from its government to start exporting vehicles to SA. It may also build a plant in SA to assemble vehicles in a few years' time.
Geely will initially offer four variants of a basic sedan and extend the range at a later stage. Those four vehicles will increase the number of cars, recreational vehicles and light commercial vehicles on SA's showroom floors to a staggering 1 390 variants.
The choice available has more than doubled over the past 10 years. In 1997, soon after the re-entry of Alfa Romeo, Renault and Chevrolet to SA and when the public first got a taste of Mahindra, SsangYong, Dacia, Kia, Hyundai, Daewoo, SAAB and Subaru, there were 37 manufacturers offering 595 different models.
Since then, Bentley, Cadillac, Citroën, Dodge, Maybach, Mini, Proton, TVR, GWM, Lexus and Tata have established dealerships in SA, either independently or by joining forces with established distributors and related group companies.
All manufacturers expanded their offerings significantly by adding more models and offering different engine choices, transmission systems and body variants. BMW offers a total of 86 variants from eight different models. Assuming five different paint colours and four interior trim/colour schemes a buyer can choose from 1 376 alternatives. In 1997, BMW offered just four different models, including the then very new Z3, totalling 20 different options.
Volkswagen SA currently offers an equally vast choice from 12 different models comprising 85 alternatives.
Even exclusive cars are becoming more common. In 1997, Aston Martin, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lotus, Maserati, Morgan and Porsche offered a total of 26 different cars. Another four exclusive brands are now available: Noble, Bentley, TVR and Maybach. Porsche increased its line-up from 11 cars in 1997 - soon after the new-generation Boxster sports car was launched - to a current 32 derivatives.
Stick with proven brands
Of interest is that the well known, established brands still dominate the SA market. The "new" entrants - those available for the past 10 years - still account for less than 20% of total new vehicle sales.
Latest Naamsa sales figures show that familiar brands - Toyota, Volkswagen, Ford, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz (including Jeep and Mitsubishi Colt), Nissan, Honda and BMW (including Mini) - accounted for 53 218 of the new cars sold in March this year. Total sales figures from Naamsa members and most of the larger non-members was 64 071, indicating that South Africans still choose the proven and familiar in 83% of the cases.
The only newcomer to achieve good sales figures seems to be Tata, which has seen volumes increasing steadily and which sold more cars than Honda in March (1 566 against 1 473). Individual sales figures from Citroën, Daihatsu, Kia and SsangYong aren't reported.
Prices more than doubled
It's safe to assume that some of the newer entrants offering cheap vehicles sell fewer vehicles in SA than the world's most familiar and more expensive sports cars: Porsche sold 84 new cars in March. At the minimum list price of R500 000 for an entry-level Boxster, Porsche sales were worth at least R42m last month.
Since 1997, monthly car sales have more than doubled from around 25 000/month to between 52 000 and 60 000/month last year and into 2007.
Some prices have also almost doubled. For example, the price of a Mercedes-Benz C180 increased from around R130 000 in 1997 to the current R254 000. And a Toyota Corolla went from around R56 000 to R117 000 in the same period.
To date, only a few of those manufacturers who tried to enter the SA market have disappeared, namely Dacia, Asia and Lada Niva.