As the latest figures from the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (Naamsa) were announced earlier this month, the local motoring industry heaved a tangible sigh of relief. August saw a significant improvement in sales after a bleak July, heavily impacted by the civil unrest in Gauteng and KZN.
According to Naamsa, 41,425 vehicles were sold in August, a 24.6% improvement over the same period last year. In comparison, July’s figures were almost 10,000 units less, with 32,949 vehicles sold. And while the overall passenger car market is still down by 17% compared with sales in 2019, there are pinpricks of hope.
Last month the passenger car market showed the biggest growth this year, with an impressive 40% year-on-year gain, partly thanks to a resurgence in rental industry sales.
However, according to Mark Dommisse, chairman of the National Automobile Dealers’ Association, the local industry is far from being out of the woods. Supply of stock is one of its biggest headaches.
“The global shortage of semiconductors continues to play havoc with production and is causing many factories to be idled. This shortage is likened to the Covid-19 pandemic, in that it will not go away. In fact, the problem seems to be getting more serious as time goes by, with manufacturers either pausing production or deleting chip-specific functionality from certain model lines.”
Earlier this month, on 6 September, at the Munich Auto Show, three of the big guns in motoring – Ford, Volkswagen and Daimler – all voiced their frustrations and concerns about the semiconductor shortage.
Gunnar Herrmann, chairman of the management board from Ford Europe, estimated the chip shortage could continue through to 2024. While there are countless reasons for the semiconductor drought, according to Herrmann, it appears the dearth may also have been exacerbated by the increase of electric vehicles now being manufactured. While a normal car like a Ford Focus would typically require about 300 semiconductor chips, an electric vehicle uses around 3,000.
Surprisingly, according to Renault SA, who have major manufacturing plants in India, the company is not experiencing any serious type of stock shortages. Currently placed at a healthy number five in the local passenger car market, largely thanks to the Kwid that just keeps on selling, the French brand was looking buoyant at the recent launch of what it hopes to be a serious volume seller in the budget compact SUV segment – the Kiger (rhymes with tiger).
Trying to establish what the word ‘Kiger’ meant, I was amused to discover that according to Wikipedia, in America a “kiger” is a “party animal doubled as a flank, a seducer without a future, a drinker without moderation or a miser”. In other regions of the world, the word ‘Kiger’ means “king”.
Whether Renault’s latest product will perform royally when it comes to sales, or like “a seducer without a future”, remains to be seen.
Over the past year there has been a lot of added traffic to the popular budget SUV segment – the Toyota Urban Cruiser, Kia’s Sonet, the Nissan Magnite and the Suzuki Brezza – to join the Honda WRV, the Peugeot 2008, the Hyundai Venue, the Mahindra XUV 300 and Ford’s top-selling EcoSport. Manufacturers are clearly seeing the value in this ever-expanding pie.
This is a segment where many buyers are more interested in appearances – appearing to have a small SUV, rather than going for a vehicle with serious power, torque and off-road capabilities. Which is why I think the new Kiger is going to have some significant uptake among its targeted market who are also heavily influenced by how a car looks.
Exterior-wise, the Kiger is a beaut. While it has managed to capture an elegant visage, it’s also bold and muscular, with aggressive styling making it look like a serious compact SUV with its aluminium-finish skid plates.
Inside it gets a little less glamorous. For the most part, “practical” would be the best way to describe the interior (although I did find it rather weird that there aren’t any front passenger cup holders, which is rather impractical). Most of the finishes are plasticky and quite cheap-looking: for example, the Kia Sonet has a much more up-market feel inside, but considering the Kiger’s aggressive pricing, you really can’t expect to be swathed in luxurious textures and finishes.
I did like the 8-inch touchscreen which I found really easy to use, pairing quickly with my smart tech. I played a lot of Linkin Park on the drive to Riebeek Kasteel through the 8-speaker Arkamys audio system and found it to be one of the best in the segment. I was further surprised by the spaciousness of the Kiger’s boot of 405 litres, plus there’s plenty of leg and headroom for rear passengers (who, by the way, get cup holders) as well as good ground clearance of 205mm.
Renault has given the customer six models to choose from at various price points. The bottom of the range Kiger is powered by a naturally aspirated 1.0-litre (52kW/96Nm) that comes with a 5-speed manual gearbox or a 5-speed Automated Manual Transmission, while the more sprightly turbocharged 1.0-litre (74kW/160Nm) 3-cylinder petrol engine offers a choice of a 5-speed manual gearbox or a CVT transmission.
There are three spec grades: Life, Zen and Intens, (and no, that’s not a typo). While the Life is pretty basic, including manual aircon, 16-inch steel rims with plastic wheel covers and a conventional four-speaker DIN radio, there’s a significant difference in the top of spec range Intens where offerings include auto air conditioning, an impressive 3-D Auditorium sound system, wireless smartphone replication, a rear window defogger, three driving modes via a rotational dial, 16-inch Diamond Cut alloy wheels – and they’ve even thrown in a cooled lower glove box.
At launch I didn’t get to drive the el cheapo 1.0 litre turbo-less Kiger. However, with its paltry 52kWs I am certain that this car won’t be breaking any speed records, but this will not be what this particular Renault customer is after.
Instead, I got to play in both the pricier CVT and 5-speed manual Intens, turbo-charged 1.0 litre derivatives. I am usually not a fan of CVT gearboxes and so I was in for another surprise. Instead of that sewing machine-like whirring lag, the gearbox behaved really well and felt more like a traditional automatic. There was adequate power on tap in order to overtake thanks to its turbo, and with quite a lot of wind on the day, the Kiger felt sturdy and well-planted. I found the manual gearbox relatively sprightly with a good uptake in gaining speed, but at the end of the day I preferred the CVT derivative.
As far as safety goes, it was a relief to know that the top of the range offerings have Electronic Stability Control added to ABS with EBD as well as four airbags, while the entry level “Life” somewhat ironically is deprived of what many consider to be the most significant safety system in a car – life-saving ESC, and it only has two front airbags.
Overall, Renault has come up with an astute line-up to suit a range of customer needs during these challenging times, by offering an entry level vehicle that can be purchased for just under R200K. However, I’d seriously recommend spending extra cash on more power and solid safety by going turbo.
Renault Kiger prices (2021)
1.0L Life manual – R199,900
1.0L Zen manual – R214,900
1.0L Zen AMT – R224,900
1.0L Turbo Zen manual – R249,900
1.0L Turbo Intens manual – R269,900
1.0L Turbo Intens CVT – R289,900 DM
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