Hybrid explosion in South Africa

The South African vehicle retail industry saw a surge in sales of hybrid cars during the third quarter of 2023, according to the National Automobile Association of South Africa (naamsa).

naamsa’s Q3 2023 business review showed that between July and September 2023, 1,801 hybrid cars were sold by seventeen of South Africa’s major car brands.

That compares to 810 in the same period in 2022 — an increase of 122%.

It is also substantially more than all the hybrids sold in South Africa from 2018 to 2021.

1,712 of the models sold in Q3 2023 were traditional closed-loop hybrids, which charge their high-voltage batteries internally using their petrol engines.

These include models such as the Toyota Corolla Cross, Haval Jolion HEV, Honda Fit Hybrid, and Suzuki Grand Vitara.

Plug-in models, with ports for charging with an external power source, only accounted for 89 units sold over the same period.

Nonetheless, that figure is about four times the number sold in the third quarter of 2022.

Plug-in hybrids feature longer pure electric range thanks to bigger batteries and are typically only found in higher-end vehicles — including from brands like BMWs, Jaguar, and Range Rover.

The total new energy vehicle (NEV) segment saw 2,019 sales in the third quarter, an increase of 111.9% since the same period last year.

The outstanding 218 units sold during the period were contributed by fully electric vehicles (EV). This number is equal to all the EVs sold in the entire 2021.

Year-to-date, 720 EVs have been sold in South Africa, compared to 502 during the whole of 2022.

Total NEV sales stood at 5,165 units, up 67% from the 3,092 units sold after nine months in 2022.

 

A big shift for carmakers

Several manufacturers have confirmed or are studying the introduction of more hybrids and fully-electric models in South Africa in 2024 — including growingly popular value-focused brands like Chery and Omoda.

Although petrol and diesel cars still outsell NEVs by a significant margin, the global shift to vehicles with lower or no tail-pipe emissions is putting pressure on South Africa’s automotive manufacturers.

A large proportion of locally-produced vehicles are exported to markets such as Europe, which will ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2035.

If manufacturers fail to adapt their production lines and products for this switchover, they stand to lose billions in orders and would have to cut numerous jobs.

However, the transition will not be simple, quick, or cheap.

The industry has called upon the government to implement measures like tax incentives to encourage the local production of NEVs and help develop South Africa’s NEV infrastructure.

An announcement on these interventions was expected during the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) at the start of November 2023.

However, finance minister Enoch Godongwana kicked the can down the road to the next Budget Speech in February 2024.

According to naamsa, driving a meaningful NEV transition in South Africa will require several elements:

  • A careful balance between incentivising a sustained shift in domestic market demand to NEVs.
  • Establishing an appropriately aligned, renewable energy-based charging infrastructure.
  • Supporting a shift in South African vehicle production, away from ICE vehicles to a mix of hybrids and full EVs.

Despite no initiatives by government, three manufacturers are already making hybrid cars in South Africa — BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Toyota.

However, Toyota is the only one that produces a hybrid for the local market, while the German carmakers export all their plug-in models.

Ford is also set to start producing a hybrid version of its highly popular Ranger bakkie towards the end of 2024.

It has not been confirmed whether this model will be sold in South Africa.