The messages were green, the mood serious but not subdued, and the Johannesburg International Motor Show - which opened its doors to the media and industry guests on October 30 - suggests that the South African industry is full of enthusiasm to meet the needs of changing consumers in a fast-changing industry.
Mercedes-Benz South Africa started proceedings, with their President and CEO, Dr Hansgeorg Niefer, immediately setting the tone. “While the South African auto industry is facing some very tough challenges - including a market that continues to shrink, tightening credit, a depreciating rand and lots of uncertainty, the local industry nonetheless, remains highly motivated and competitive.
“Our auto industry is world-class, we have good legislation in place, excellent manufacturing facilities, and firm commitment from labour. What we need is to remain focused to get through this slump,” said Niefer.
The highlight of their stand was the, SL65 AMG Black Series, with JIMS the world premiere of the R4-million, 493 kW sports car. Fourteen of these limited edition supercars have been allocated to SA. Also from AMG - the three-pointed star’s performance division - was the S65 AMG and the 375 kW ML63 AMG, now in its face lifted form.
MBSA also unveiled the E300 Bluetec, a model designed to run on high quality, low sulphur diesel fuel and therefore not suitable for local introduction just yet. The company also talked of Stop/Start technology to become available on the A and B-class next year and expected contribute to a nine percent fuel saving.
Over at the company’s Mitsubishi division the wraps came off the Pajero Sport and the Lancer Evo X,
both of which will bolster the brand in the new year.
BMW claimed their drive to reduce consumption - dubbed Efficient Dynamics and applicable to all models - will eventually reduce the company’s overall footprint by 25 percent. This will include BMW Active Hybrid models to go on sale in Europe next year, cars which will have 20 percent fewer emissions than the equivalent petrol or diesel-engined model.
The star of their stand was the latest 7-series, due to be launched in Europe within days and coming here in February. The range will comprise 730d, 740i and 750i. Padding out the stand was the face lifted 3-series, due for launch in the first week of November. One of the highlights in an updated turbodiesel engine for the 330d, now rated at 180 kW and 520 Nm.
Most of the cars displayed on Renault’s stand were hidden by drapes, and they came off one by one to reveal the Logan, the Koleos, Twingo, and Laguna Concept coupe, and the locally-manufactured Sandero.
“Production of the Sandero will start in late January as Renault moves from importation to local production,” said Xavier Gobille, Managing Director of Renault South Africa. “The sales volume we expect from this budget-beating vehicle will drive strong growth for Renault in South Africa, by catering for the domestic market and capitalising on export opportunities.”
The Sandero will go on sale in March.
The Koleos, Twingo and Logan have just been introduced and a RS performance version of the funky little Twingo will be added early next year. The sleek Laguna coupe was also revealed and possibly the best news of all is that the production version of this concept car was recently signed off, and will be entering the SA market during the latter half of 2009.
Despite a host of visual distractions on the Audi stand, there were plenty of attractive automotive offerings too. The wraps came off the TTS, S3 Sportback, RS6 (at 426v kW claimed to be the world’s most powerful sedan) and probably most significantly, the Q5.
A compact SUV with a clear lineage to the established Q7, Audi’s new softroader will go on sale in March 2009, with the 3.0-litre TDI/7-speed automatic version expected to start at R400 000.
Volkswagen announced that they will continue to rationalise production at their Uitenhage plant and will reduce to two platforms, improving economies of scale and increasing local content. In the brand’s normal understated way they revealed the Passat CC - a vehicle which they say fuses the best attributes of a coupe and convertible - and the Scirocco, powered by the innovative 1.4 TSI powerplant, which combines supercharging and turbocharging. Both go on sale in the first half of 2009.
Other highlights of the stand were the tiny Up! conceptual city car and potent Touareg R50 with 5,0-litre V10 turbodiesel making 258 kW.
VW management were also at pains to point out that there is still life in the CitiGolf and that it’ll continue at least into 2010. To prove their point they announced the CitiWolf 1,4i yet another update on a seemingly timeless theme.
Compact SUVs are still all the rage and Volvo used JIMS to show off the XC60, another vehicle which will contribute to a busy 2009 for motoring media.
Expected early in the year, the XC60 will initially be available with the six-cylinder turbocharged 3.0T engine producing 210 kW and the five-cylinder D5 turbodiesel which delivers 136 kW and 400 Nm of torque. All Wheel Drive (AWD) with Instant Traction is fitted as standard on all variants.
Owing to its compact dimensions – the XC60 is 20 cm shorter than the XC70 and its profile is lower than the XC90 – it continues Volvo’s range of slimmed-down car models with high energy efficiency.
Hybrids remain a hot topic and one of the leaders in the field is Lexus. With petrol/electric versions of their RX and GS ranges already on sale, Lexus General Manager Kevin Flynn took the opportunity to announce that they’re looking at the long-wheelbase Lexus LS PerformanceHybrid for possible local introduction too.
The LS600hL combines a 290kW 5.0-litre V8 petrol engine with a 165kW electric motor to return the performance you’d expect from a 327 kW combined output with a combined fuel consumption figure of 9.3 l/100km.
“While we expect many motor companies to have hybrid vehicles on display, or environmentally conscience concept vehicles at best, Lexus will be the only motor company at the show to display hybrid vehicles actually on the market, available now in our dealers’ showrooms,” said Flynn. “The future of automotive technology is hybrid, and for Lexus, the future is now.”
Next door, the message at Toyota was not dissimilar. With the Future Toyota Hybrid Sports (FT-HS) they believe high performance and environmental compatibility are not mutually exclusive and the concept vehicle can accelerate to 100 km/h in just four seconds. Its hybrid powertrain delivers 300 kW.
Toyota’s CEO Johan van Zyl meanwhile sounded a warning for the South African industry, pointing out that the refining of modern fuels should be fast-tracked with a view to achieving a Euro Five compatibility by 2012.
“SA can no longer operate in isolation as far as fuels go,” he said. ”Improvements in the quality of our fuels is imperative and we need to offer advanced technology - government and the fuel industry must encourage higher standards for fuels, which at the moment only meet Euro Two requirements.”
On a product front, Toyota unveiled their restyled Hilux (the range now including turbodiesel automatic versions), and a new flagship for the Yaris range in the form of the racy three-door TS, with 98 kW and 173 Nm.
The unveiling of a sexy car needs to be preceded by a sexy show and the routine which preceded the Alfa Romeo MiTo certainly fitted the bill. There were dancers, drama, and with a flourish there it was - a car which will see Alfa back in the sporty compact sector.
Alfa Romeo say it mixes sportiness, style and emotion, and it’ll give local dealers a much-needed fillip when it goes on sale in the second quarter of 2009.
If the MiTo was plain sexy, the Nissan GT-R was simply butch by comparison. The company’s ultra-performance coupe, which has already earned itself a reputation as a giant-killer, is billed as the most sophisticated production Nissan ever. With 353 kW and 588 Nm deployed to all four wheels, it is probably the most powerful too. Nissan list its top speed as 310 km/h and its 0 - 100 km/h time as 3,5 seconds.
It goes on sale in the second half of 2009, and the waiting list already far exceeds the numbers allocated to this market.
Another Nissan worth watching is the Nuvu, a concept which will capitalise on what Nissan sees as an inevitable seismic shift in the urban landscape. They say within the next five to seven years, some 55 percent of the world’s population will live in the city, threatening total gridlock. Unless something is done, the irony of the phrase ‘personal mobility’ will be self-evident.
“Nuvu is literally a ‘new view’. It’s an electric car and as far as Nissan is concerned, for tomorrow’s city cars that is a given. Once of the most important aspect of Nuvu is the interior design, which provides great comfort and space in an intelligent package,” says Mike Whitfield, Managing Director of Nissan South Africa.
A facelifted Murano was a further highlight of the Nissan stand.
“This is a brilliant time for Daihatsu to be selling cars,” is how the company’s Jaco Oosthuizen kicked off their media slot and it is hard to argue. With a reputation for being small car specialists the tough climate seems to be playing into their hands.
They believe the market still wants performance though and they announced the Materia DRD, a locally-developed performance version of their unusual supermini. The 1,5-litre power plant is turbocharged and intercooler, resulting in power of 110 kW and torque of 195 Nm - increases of about 40 percent from standard.
Ä mini-hot rod with attitude,” said Oosthuizen a claim made more believable thanks to its lowered suspension and substantial wheels and tyres.
Chery is one of the country’s newest brands they say they’re happy with their 350-odd sales a month since launch four months ago, considering that the passenger car market has dropped by the best part of 30 percent in the last two years.
They’ve got a busy 2009 planned and in the product pipeline they have the V5 7-seater, automatic versions of the Tiggo and J5, and also a two-pedal version (though it still has an automated clutch) of the tiny QQ3.
Rounding out the day for the passenger car exhibitors was a flurry of product from Great Wall Motors, who revealed an eclectic mix including a limousine version of the Hover.
Also on show were the Gwperi - billed as a fun, funky and safe economical hatch, the Gwperi EV - its electrical, 4-seater brother, the 5-seater sporty Florid - likely to appeal to both sexes in need of a more spacious car that still oozes urban energy, and the eight-seater Cowry - GWM’s first commercial MPV and currently under consideration for launch in South Africa.