Big switch to small cars

The escalating fuel price has seen South Africans discarding gas guzzlers in favour of smaller, more fuel-efficient cars.

Although car sales overall are down 23% compared with last year, small car sales are up by 25%, according to figures from the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (Naamsa). Small car sales represent less than 10% of total sales, though.

Last month 27 724 new cars were sold, of which 2 435 were small cars.

Demand in the new car market has weakened substantially in recent months because of several interest-rate increases and pressure on disposable income from rising energy and food prices.

People are also buying fewer bakkies and minibuses: 16 616 were sold last month, 10,7% fewer than in March last year. Only 826 SUVs were sold last month.

Naamsa director Nico Vermeulen said that with the petrol price rising, most people will buy more fuel-efficient cars to cut their fuel costs.

JD Power and Associates’s 2007 South Africa Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) Study shows that the cost of running and maintaining a vehicle, including fuel costs, is a key consideration for consumers when choosing a new car.

Brian Walters, vice-president of JD Power in Africa and the Middle East, said: “In many markets around the world the increase in fuel prices has caused many consumers to switch to more fuel-efficient cars.

“Manufacturers are responding to the increased demand for smaller, fuel-efficient cars by launching smaller cars, adding new diesel-engine options [diesel engines can offer up to 25% better fuel economy than a comparable petrol engine] and introducing new technology, such as a ‘stop-start’ mechanism which cuts the engine in traffic jams or at traffic lights.”

In tests conducted by Car magazine the most fuel-efficient cars on the South African new car market were the Daihatsu Charade and Toyota Prius—both used 5,3 litres of petrol per 100km.

Said the magazine’s Hannes Oosthuizen: “Our index represents the fuel consumption a driver will experience if he drives slightly faster than most of the traffic but still within the law.

“This is done to find an upper limit: [for] example if your consumption is worse than ours then you have something to complain about to the manufacturer concerned.

“We give the car to various staff members to drive and fill the tank frequently to calculate fuel consumption. The average of these values is combined with the fuel consumption measured during performance testing. Finally we compare our values with European figures, multiplied by a factor based on our 50-year

experience.”

The Ford Ikon 1,4 TDCI Trend (5,4 litres per 100km) takes third position, with the Citroen C3 HDI and Nissan Micra 1,5 DCI Tekna coming next, both consuming 5,5 litres/100km.

The Daihatsu Terios has the best consumption for a 4x4 at 7,9 litres/100km, according to the magazine.

Kevin Moncur, a technical adviser for the Total Economy Run—an annual competion to achieve the best fuel efficiency over a set course—said: “Diesel cars are more efficient than petrol but cost more. People do not see that the fuel saving warrants the extra costs. Direct-petrol-injection engines are more efficient than normal aspirated engines but cost more, so people buy cheaper.”

In 2007 the Canadian government proposed to introduce a vehicle-efficiency incentive to encourage people to buy fuel-efficient vehicles. The South African government has proposed introducing similar measures. At the time of this year’s budget, it announced that excise duties could be reformed to encourage the purchase of vehicles with lower emissions and better fuel efficiency.

Tax incentives to encourage the uptake and development of “cleaner” technologies are also being considered, as are emission charges.

The Total Economy Run competition, which has been running since 1977, “remains the only credible test for the man in the street of the comparable fuel efficiency of all makes and models of cars competing against one another over the same route [and] distance and under the same set of regulations,” according to its sponsor, oil company Total.

A Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TDI won top place in the overall index of fuel efficiency in last year’s Total Economy Run, which was held in Gauteng and North West provinces. It used 2,73 litres per 100km per ton and also won the overall efficiency award for diesel cars.

A Citroen C1 1.0i won the award for the lowest fuel consumption by a petrol-fuelled car and a Citroen C2 1.4 HDI, at 4,41 litres/100km, won the prize for the lowest consumption by a diesel car.

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