Traditional bakkie powerhouses to be challenged by buying-down trend, newcomers – WesBank
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Traditional bakkie powerhouses to be challenged by buying-down trend, newcomers – WesBank

South Africa is bakkie country, dominated by Toyota’s Hilux as the country’s long-standing number-one-selling vehicle, with the Ford Ranger and Isuzu D-Max also perennial favourites, among others.

These three bakkies are also produced locally, in Durban, Pretoria and Gqeberha, respectively.

However, similar to many other brands in the automotive sector, South Africa’s most popular vehicles are facing increasing competition from Chinese and other more affordable brands, especially as the current economic malaise continues, says WesBank marketing and communication head Lebogang Gaoaketse.

Slowing sales in the local automotive sector have been felt across all segments of the new-car market, including the higher end of the spectrum where most double-cab leisure bakkies are now positioned, he notes.

While bakkies such as the Ranger and Hilux remain among the top sellers in the new-car market, there has been a decline in the number of units sold locally in the overall light commercial vehicle (LCV) segment.

According to sales figures from Naamsa | The Automotive Business Council, 59 027 LCVs were sold in South Africa in the first five months of the year – 5.7% less than the 62 594 units moved in same period in 2023.

High interest rates, increased levels of household debt, rising living costs and high inflation are key drivers of what has become a buying-down trend in the new-vehicle market, while these factors are also pushing customers towards the pre-owned market, says Gaoaketse.

Naturally, this trend can also be seen in higher-value vehicle segments, which includes the recreational double-cab bakkie segment.

A number of the manufacturers in the LCV segment have also experienced supply constraints, which has impacted on their ability to deliver sufficient product against inherit demand, notes Gaoaketse.

All of these factors were on display over the past 12 to 18 months in what has become a volatile LCV market, he says.

He adds that the average new-vehicle deal size financed by WesBank in the first quarter of the year stood at R392 174.

“In the same period, we saw Suzuki, which offers an array of hatchbacks and compact crossovers in this price bracket, and even cheaper, rise to its highest level to date among the top-selling brands in the country,” says Gaoaketse.

“Similarly, Chery and GWM have consistently made it into Naamsa’s top ten list of monthly best sellers, with Chery rising to position six in April, despite having only three sports-utility vehicles or crossovers in its product mix.

“This proves beyond any doubt the ascension of Chinese brands into the mainstream of South Africa’s automotive landscape.”

The Chinese have an “apparent” and “probably inevitable” intention to grow their market share in segments other than SUVs, notes Gaoaketse.

“This includes the bakkie segment, where in May, news about the launch of the new Chinese-made LDV T60 bakkie line-up grabbed the headlines.

“This will be followed closely by another Chinese brand – the new Foton Tunland – which is expected to land on our shores in June or July this year.

“A few years ago, these would have been seen as inconsequential to the support enjoyed by the segment leaders.

“Those days are gone,” says Gaoaketse.

“We don’t expect the powerhouses from Toyota and Ford to be unseated by the newcomers. But, with their generous specification levels and competitive pricing, they will definitely garner a lot of interest among local buyers.

“Perhaps this will be the catalyst for more sales in the LCV segment, especially in the absence of an immediate place-filler for the now discontinued NP200, which was the last remaining model in the defunct half-tonner segment.”