OPINION | How will we manage social distancing in cars after lockdown? Will SUVs help?

2020 Kia Sorento. Image: MotorPress
2020 Kia Sorento. Image: MotorPress

How will we manage social distancing in cars? Having three rows of seating might help a lot. 

As South Africa processes the idea of the lockdown being gradually lifted, you must wonder how this might impact on your motoring life. 

Driving has been a non-event for most motorists, these last few weeks. You've maybe driven single digit kilometres to go harvest your necessary groceries from the local store, every few days. But if movement restrictions are lifted, how will South Africa's reawakened motoring environment look?

Long-distance inter-provincial travel is not going to happen for quite some time. That means South Africa's motoring epicentre - Gauteng - will see mostly localised travel, within its small borders. 

In all provinces, overall driving mileage is predicted to remain low, due to many workers operating remotely. Also factor in the absence of entertainment, live sport and eating venues being closed, all of which generally incentivise the traditional weekend driving experience of between 100 and 200km. 

kia sportage

2020 Kia Sportage. Image: MotorPress

Motoring landscape

You will be driving a lot more in the next few weeks than you did in full lockdown, but a lot less than you were this time last year. The most important question is, how will the radical change in South Africa's motoring landscape, due to Covid-19, alter possible future car-buying decisions?

Government policy is enforcing social distancing and in any vehicle, keeping a 1.5m space from other passengers is an issue. In specific vehicle types, it becomes impossible. And these influences could radically change how South Africans who are planning to buy a car in the next few months, make their final decision. 

The first and most obvious point is that coupes and two-seater sportscars are now genuinely undesirable, unless you are planning to do absolutely all your driving alone, which is counter-intuitive. 

Most sportscar owners purchase to have a single front-seat passenger along for the ride, to share the experience and driving thrill of a two-seater, but that's a hugely problematic scenario with social distancing. 

Toyota Supra and BMW Z4

Toyota Supra and BMW Z4. Image: Warren Wilson

Rise of the 7-seater SUVs

We could also see a significant change concerning the country's leisure double-cab bakkie and SUV markets. South Africans adore bakkies. The Toyota Hilux is our best-selling vehicle and not all locally purchased bakkies work hard for a living. 

Many South Africans use the current-generation of more sophisticated and comfortable double-cab bakkies as family vehicles. But that might become an issue when having to keep social distancing discipline. 

READ: Why Toyota discontinued the V6 engine in its Fortuner range

Double-cab bakkies only have seating for five occupants. Upfront you have the driver and one passenger, while the rear bench seat accommodates three more travellers. Bakkies being driven at full capacity might become a problem, especially if government obsesses about having only one vehicle occupant per row of seating.  

This is where the seven-seater SUV is superior to virtually any other vehicle configuration on sale in South Africa. If we use Toyota as an example, due to its popularity, the Fortuner is effectively a seven-seater version of Hilux, with the advantage of third-row seating. 

Toyota Fortuner, Epic Black

2020 Toyota Fortuner Epic Black. Image: MotorPress

Meaningful seats

For years, many (including myself) have criticised Toyota for enduring with the Fortuner's 7-seater configuration. I always believed that its two rearmost seats are a packaging annoyance and needless waste of additional luggage space. Those seats could become considerably meaningful. 

The Fortuner could become a default purchase for customers who seek an all-terrain family vehicle but want the social distance cabin safety, of being able to spread passengers across three rows of seating, instead of only two.

South Africans have options in the market for seven-seater SUV under R1.0-million. There's the Fortuner, Ford's Everest, and Mitsubishi's Pajero Sport. Volkswagen markets the Tiguan AllSpace, and Land Rover, its Discovery Sport. Other options are the Kia Sorento and Hyundai's Sante Fe. 

On the more affordable end of the market spectrum, there are other seven-seater vehicles too, such as Suzuki's Ertiga and Honda's BR-V. 

Suzuki Ertiga GLX

2020 Suzuki Ertiga. Image: Motorpress

Disclaimer: Wheels24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of contributors/columnists published on Wheels24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24 or Wheels24. 

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