New car sales jumped in 2021 - but still far off pre-pandemic levels

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  • Sales of new vehicles were 22% higher last year than in pandemic-hit 2020.
  • But demand for new vehicles was still far below 2019.
  • Vehicle exports are also still much lower than before the pandemic.

Over the past year, some 462 122 new vehicles were sold in South Africa - 22% more than in the pandemic-hit 2020.

But while sales of heavy trucks and buses are back above pre-pandemic levels, other vehicle sales are still lower than before 2020. Some 303 961 new passengers cars were sold in 2021, compared to 353 379 in 2019.

"It was a very satisfying performance by an industry that has had to deal with numerous challenges overthe course of the year, ranging from global supply chain disruptions, insufficient model availability, persistent load-shedding, escalating logistics cost, as well as several domestic shocks," the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (Naamsa) said in a statement.

The domestic disruptions included civil unrest, the cyberattack on Transnet operations, the three-week strike in the steel and engineering sector, renewed lockdown restrictions, record fuel prices and the first interest increase in three years. All of these "did not deter sales too much", Naamsa found.

"Overall, market conditions in the new passenger car and light commercial vehicle market continued to be characterised by a buying down trend, with sales of pre-owned vehicles offering the most enticing option during the year."

Naamsa reported an uptick in activity among vehicle rental companies, which is a major seasonal contributor to the new vehicle market. This supported passenger car sales during the second half of the year as overseas visitors came to South Africa. 

New vehicle sales fell during December 2021 by 3.5% compared to the same month in 2020, but while other vehicle categories declined, sales of passenger cars increased by 1.7%.

Toyota (9 580) was the top new vehicle seller, followed by Volkswagen (5 131) and Hyundai (2 892) in December.


South Africa's total vehicle exports increased by almost 9% to 295 268 last year from 2021. But exports remain 24% below 2019 levels.

Toyota (5 968 vehicles exported) was the top exporting brand, followed by Ford (5 117). In 2020, the export of vehicles and automotive components reached a record amount of R175.7 billion, almost 14% of South Africa’s total exports. The industry now accounts for a fifth of South Africa manufacturing output.

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