Bakkies are booming but it's a bit of a bust for new-car sales, according to the latest Naamsa figures released yesterday.

Passenger cars moved 31 400 units in South Africa last month, reflecting a decline of 4.4% compared to February last year, while bakkies and light commercials sold 14 416 units to record a strong gain of 9.7% compared to the corresponding month in 2016.

With medium and heavy truck sales also up by respectively 8.5% and 6.1%, it left the total market idling along at the same rate as a year ago, with 48 113 units leaving showrooms last month compared to 48 144 in February 2016.

Similarly, February 2017 export sales were also virtually unchanged from last year and gained 0.2%, an increase of 65 vehicles over the 29 323 vehicles exported in February 2016.

Naamsa was cautiously optimistic that after a drop of around 11% in 2016, domestic new-vehicle sales could improve around 3.5% this year due to improving economic conditions.

It noted that key indicators such as the latest Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) and the Reserve Bank’s leading indicator – which had recorded an extraordinary improvement for five consecutive months – heralded the possibility of an improvement in South Africa’s medium term economic outlook.

"In addition, the easing of drought conditions and projected global economic growth of around 3.4% as well as continuing Rand strength which should benefit new vehicle pricing, represented factors which should contribute positively to sales of new motor vehicles over the medium term," said a Naamsa spokesman.

Interest rates are also forecast to remain unchanged throughout 2017 but affordability will continue to be an issue due to inflation, and new-vehicle prices are 9.7% higher than a year ago.

Demand for used vehicles slowed in February, with Wesbank reporting 5.3% fewer finance applications compared to the same month last year. According to Wesbank's figures, consumers who did finance vehicles also paid more: the average deal value for a new car was 8.8% higher, while the average car was 9% more expensive year-on-year.

“This is the first decline in demand we’ve seen for used vehicles and we will need more data to see if this is a trend for the year," said a Wesbank spokesman.

“However, consumer demand for used vehicles continues to outpace new vehicles by a factor of 2.4:1”.

The usual suspects topped the best-selling list of news cars and bakkies last month (see below) but getting a true picture of the market took another knock now that BMW became the latest carmaker to keep its monthly sales a secret, following the lead of Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, and Kia. BMW SA will review its decision provided the other companies begin reporting their own sales.

TOP 15 SELLING NEW CARS AND BAKKIES IN FEBRUARY 2017 (excluding BMW, Hyundai, Kia, and Mercedes-Benz)

1 Toyota Hilux 3086

2 VW Polo Vivo 3017

3 Ford Ranger 2913

4 VW Polo 2462

5 Toyota Corolla/Auris/Quest 1717

6 Toyota Quantum 1451

7 Nissan NP300 Hardbody 1447

8 Nissan NP200 1327

9 Toyota Etios 1233

10 Toyota Fortuner 1092

11 Isuzu KB 1058

12 Ford Fiesta 1054

13 Chev Utility 833

14 Renault Sandero 681

15 Ford Focus 649

* Source: Naamsa