Vehicles for sale at The Glen shopping centre south of Johannesburg. Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi
Sales of new vehicles last month achieved year-on-year growth for only the second month so far this year, suggesting that the economy was not yet in a deep recession. Figures released yesterday showed that sales of new cars declined 2.2percent last month to 28639 units, from 29269 units sold in June last year.

However, sales of new light commercial vehicles, bakkies and minibuses rose 8percent year-on-year last month to 14278 units, while sales of medium commercial vehicles rose 4.4percent to 800 units.

Sales of heavy trucks and buses dropped 2.8percent to 1652 units.

Overall, the sale of new vehicles increased 0.9percent year-on-year to 45369 units last month.

Azar Jammine, the chief economist at Econometrix, said it was “reasonably encouraging” that the market had achieved year-on-year growth.

“Despite a lot of negative news that had to be digested in the course of June, the market held up reasonably well,” he said.

Jammine said June was only the second month this year in which new vehicle sales had achieved year-on-year growth.

He said the year-on-year growth in March was because a number of public holidays fell in March last year, whereas this was not the case this year.

Jammine said Econometrix had expected year-on-year growth in new vehicle sales last month, which suggested that the economy was not collapsing completely.

“You would not expect positive growth (in new vehicle sales) in the midst of a deep recession. This applies to passenger vehicles, but especially to commercial vehicle sales,” he said.

However, Jammine expected new vehicle sales to remain at their current levels, with marginally negative growth for the full calendar year.

“New vehicle sales were -1.3percent lower year-on-year for the first half of the year. You can’t look for any major improvement, because of the depressed economic environment and low consumer and business confidence levels,” Jammine said.

Nico Vermeulen, the director of the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa, said the outlook for new vehicle sales in the second half of the year remained uncertain.

Vermeulen said political tensions and subdued economic growth continued to impact negatively on business confidence and consumer sentiment.

He added that the challenges confronting South Africa were varied and complex, and concerted steps were required by business, government and labour to create a more investor-friendly environment to boost growth.

“Domestic new vehicle sales were closely correlated with the overall performance of the economy and confidence levels. At this stage, domestic new vehicle sales for 2017 were likely to remain flat at best,” he said.

Export sales of locally produced vehicles improved 1.4percent year-on-year last month to 31631 vehicles, from 31202 vehicles exported in June last year.

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Rudolf Mahoney, the head of brand and communications at WesBank, said growth in new vehicle sales in the dealer channel was fuelled by aggressive marketing in the form of sales incentives and end-of-quarter deals.

“The strong light commercial vehicle sales figure is attributed to these being recreational vehicles for consumers, as well as sought-after vehicles for businesses and government,” he said.

Nicholas Nkosi, the executive head of Standard Bank vehicle and asset finance, retail and business banking, said despite the 2.2percent decline in new passenger vehicle sales, there had been a steady improvement in the sale of cars in the past three months, while sales of used cars had continued to show growth and resilience.