Johannesburg - As we cruise into the year-end holiday season, we thought it'd be a good time to run through some of the good, the bad and the ugly motoring moments of 2017.
Despite a difficult economic environment due to Gupta-gate scandals and the country being downgraded to junk status, South African new-vehicle sales stayed resilient. November was the sixth month in a row that new-vehicle sales improved over the corresponding months last year, and it’s expected that sales for the year will reach 565 000 units - two percent higher than in 2016.
Next year may be a different story however, as the economy’s hit by the impact of SA’s downgraded credit ratings in the form of reduced consumer and business confidence. Bad news for affordability is that the rand’s expected to depreciate further against international currencies towards year-end and in 2018, which will probably lead to price hikes.
On a positive note, interest rates are expected to stay unchanged for at least the first quarter of the year.
In a shock move the American auto giant announced in May that it was pulling out of South Africa at the end of this year. Isuzu KBs will continue to be built in Port Elizabeth through the newly-established Isuzu Motors SA, and Opel will stick around thanks to the Williams Hunt dealer group. But it’s bye bye to Chevrolet, and we’ll have to find a new ending for the “braaivleis, rugby and sunny skies” song.
While one company departs, others find South Africa to be a solid investment in terms of local assembly.
BMW is gearing up to build the just-launched new-generation X3 at its Rosslyn factory near Pretoria. In a R6-billion investment, the sports utility vehicle will be assembled for the local market and for export to Europe.
Chinese automaker Beijing Automobile International Corporation (BAIC) has begun construction of an R11-billion vehicle manufacturing plant in the Coega IndustriaDevelopment Zone (IDZ) near Port Elizabeth. Said to be the biggest automotive investment in Africa in the last 40 years, it’s jointly funded by BAIC and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC).
* The Opel Astra was voted South Africa’s Car of the Year by the Guild of Motoring journalists in the Wesbank-sponsored competition.
* The Jaguar F-Pace SUV got the nod as World Car of the Year.
* The KTM 1290 Adventure R walked off with South Africa’s Motorcycle of the Year prize, sponsored by Pirelli.
* In our in-house Drive360 Awards we chose the Suzuki Ignis urban SUV as our overall winner.
* Brad Binder was voted South Africa’s Motor Sportsman of the Year in a Bridgestone-sponsored award handed out by the Guild of Motoring Journalists, for winning last year’s Moto3 world championship. The Red Bull KTM rider moved up to the more powerful Moto2 class this season, and after a slow start plagued by injury he finished the season with a string of podiums.
Having your cars burst into flames due to a design flaw is bad enough, but Ford did its reputation even more damage by taking so long to respond to the issue. Only after intense public and media pressure did it launch an investigation and ascertain that the fires in dozens of Kugas were due to overheating which led to cracking in the cylinder head and leaking oil igniting on the hot engine. A recall campaign to fix Kuga cooling systems is now underway, but the controversial saga is a lesson to all car companies: don’t try sweep things under the carpet.
Last month Global NCAP and the AA put entry-level car safety in the spotlight by crash-testing five South African budget hatchbacks. The tests produced mixed results, with Toyota’s Etios coming out tops with a rating of four out of a maximum five stars; the Renault Sandero and VW Polo Vivo both achieved three; the Datsun Go+ station wagon managed just one; and the Chery QQ3 got zero.
* Lewis Hamilton won his fourth Formula One championship, becoming only the fifth man in history to win more than three titles. He joins Juan-Manuel Fangio, Alain Prost, Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel in this elite group.
* In MotoGP Marc Marquez, at age 24, became the youngest rider to win four premier class world championships. He takes the record from Mike Hailwood, who was 25 when he won his fourth premier class title in 1965.
* Former MotoGP world champion Nicky Hayden, nicknamed the ‘Kentucky Kid’, was killed in a bicycle accident in Italy in May.
* Five-time South African motorcycle champin Gavin Ramsay (53) was killed in the SA TT Historic Motorcycle race at Cape Town’s Killarney circuit in February.
* Porsche won its 19th Le Mans 24-hour race in June, and then promptly announced it was quitting endurance racing in favour of the electrically-powered Formula E championship.
* The final round of the 2017 World Rallycross championship took place at Killarney in November, the only international racing event to take place on South African soil this year. The two-day event was a great success and drew nearly 30 000 spectators.
The age of self-driving cars is getting ever closer with the proliferation of semi-autonomous driver aids in many cars. Once the preserve of only super-luxury cars, features like automatic cruise control, lane-keeping aids and automatic emergency braking are filtering down into more mass-market cars.
The end of the internal combustion engine is nigh; long live the electric car. At least, this is how it seems with all the battery-powered vehicles twirling on the stands of international motor shows. Public uptake of these cars hasn’t exactly been (ahem) electrifying, but carmakers are now claiming that range anxiety will soon be a thing of the past, and that battery-powered cars will soon have the ability to drive as far as petrol-powered ones on a single fill-up. We shall see.
Black became the new black when it came to sprucing up one-tonner bakkies in South Africa. Inspired by the popularity of the various aftermarket styling kits, local automakers launched meaner-looking bakkie versions of their own including the Ford Ranger Fx4, Toyota Hilux Black Edition, Isuzu KB X-Rider and Mitsubishi Triton Xtreme.
We can’t resist a little shameless self promotion. Our motoring newspaper supplement recently underwent a revamp and was renamed Drive360. Our name change coincided with the launch of our new online motoring marketplace, so head on to www.drive360.co.za when looking to buy your next set of wheels.
Enjoy the holidays, drive safely and courteously, and remember to keep left and pass right.