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Surprise! Car of the Year is not a car this year

Surprise! Car of the Year is not a car this year
The Next-Gen Ford Ranger, 2023 Car of the Year. (Photo: Supplied)

A year of firsts as a bakkie is voted ‘Car of the Year’ and two Chinese brands show quality has finally become part of the former ‘cheapie’ package.

South Africans have had a long love affair with bakkies — not simply because they are tough and traditionally “boys’ toys”: they are also able to handle just about anything you throw at them, from dirt roads and mud to lugging heavy goods and garden refuse. But a practical workhorse that can handle a bit of abuse is not exactly the first vehicle that jumps to mind when thinking Car of the Year.

Now, one has finally proven worthy of being judged the best “car” overall, by some of the most meticulous drivers: the South African Guild of Mobility Journalists (SAGMJ).

It’s the first time in the history of the Car of the Year awards that a bakkie has cracked the nod. Not only that, the manufacturer has also clinched second place overall, for another of its top sellers, an SUV.

It speaks volumes for the brand — Ford, which just seven years ago took a thrashing over the Kuga infernos and a poor crisis-communications effort.

Moving right along

car of the year everest

The Next-Gen Everest SUV was second in the Adventure SUV category, along with second place overall in the competition. (Photo: Supplied)

This year, Ford showed that was well in the past, as the brand was placed in the top two of the SA Car of the Year awards: the overall winner was the Next-Gen Ford Ranger, a double-cab 4×4 bakkie that impressed jury members with its technology, safety features, powertrain, driving experience and elegance, with the Next-Gen Everest SUV in second place in the Adventure SUV category, along with second place overall in the competition.

It’s the first time in the competition’s 37-year history that a bakkie has been crowned the overall winner.

Ford has invested almost R16-billion in the Silverton assembly plant in Pretoria to produce the Next-Gen Ranger. The modern facility includes an on-site stamping plant, an automated body shop and the only Ford-owned and operated frame line in the world. The Silverton plant has produced the Everest seven-seater SUV since 2016, but with a new focus on the Ranger, the manufacturer has imported the Next-Gen Everest from Thailand.

Launched in SA at the end of 2022, the Next-Gen Ford Ranger is now exported to more than 100 markets around the world.

The Ranger’s production takes place at two SA manufacturing plants: engines are built at the Struandale Engine Plant in Gqeberha before being shipped to Ford’s Silverton assembly plant.

The Silverton plant can produce 720 vehicles a day.

Neale Hill, the president of Ford Africa, said: “These awards serve to underline the very positive attributes that the Next-Gen Ranger and Everest bring to our customers locally and globally. I want to thank everyone who has contributed towards the development and launch of these revolutionary models, winning SA’s Car of the Year and rewriting history as the only bakkie to have done so is the best affirmation of our collective efforts.”

Doreen Mashinini, the general manager for marketing at Ford South Africa, added: “We are incredibly proud to witness the Next-Gen Ranger make history by clinching the overall victory in this year’s Car of the Year competition. This accomplishment underscores Ford’s commitment to delivering best-in-class vehicles that not only meet but exceed the needs and expectations of our valued customers.”

Mabuyane Mabuza, the chairperson of the 2023 Car of the Year (Coty) competition, said the achievement was a testament to the automotive industry’s commitment to producing high-quality double cabs that offer unrivalled performance while blending comfort, safety and cutting-edge technology.

“Over the past decade, the popularity of SUVs and double cabs has skyrocketed at the expense of sedans. Double-cab bakkies have become a common choice for everyday commuting, family adventures and various work applications, providing a popular solution for South Africans’ mobility demands.

“The Ford Ranger’s triumph represents a milestone for the industry, setting a new benchmark and symbolising a noteworthy accomplishment for one of South Africa’s primary export products. Proudly representing our nation across global markets, this victory showcases the ingenuity and craftsmanship of South African automotive manufacturers.”

This year, 21 finalists were selected from a pool of 55 qualifying vehicles, in the Budget, Compact, Compact Family, Midsize, Premium, Adventure SUV, 4×4 Double Cab, Luxury, Performance, and New Energy categories. The Budget category was cancelled this year (attributed to the product lifecycle timing of key competitors) and the sole entrant in the Compact category, the Renault Clio, failed to meet the required percentage to secure a category win.

The category winners for this year’s competition are:

  • Compact Family Category:      BAIC Beijing X55
  • Midsize Category:                      KIA Sportage
  • Premium Category:                   KIA Sorento
  • Adventure SUV Category:        Ford Everest
  • Double Cab 4×4 Category:       Ford Ranger
  • Luxury Category:                       Mercedes-Benz S-Class
  • Performance Category:            Audi RS3
  • New-energy Category:              Volvo XC40 P8 Recharge
  • 2023 SA Car of the Year:         Ford Ranger Double Cab 4×4

The Mercedes Benz S-Class won the Coty Jurors’ Excellence Award, recognising its unparalleled driving experience.

No more cheap and cheerful

This year, Chinese brands have done well.

The BAIC Beijing X55 won the Compact Family category while the Chery Tiggo 8 Pro won the Motor Enthusiast’s Choice, which is voted for by the public via a social media campaign by Coty competition sponsors Old Mutual Insure.

It’s a big win for BAIC South Africa too: it launched the Beijing X55 in November 2022 and the car impressed jurors with its value for money, performance and fuel efficiency.

“The Beijing X55’s design resulted in the lowest NVH (noise, vibration and harshness — a measure of a vehicle’s aural and tactile feedback) the performance in its class, and its extensive list of safety features for peace-of-mind motoring led to this compact family SUV being awarded the C-NCAP Five-star Safety Design,” said Basil Costa, the business development director at BAIC South Africa.

BAIC South Africa is planning to enhance its manufacturing plant in Gqeberha to allow it to export locally assembled vehicles to other African markets.

Chery on top

The Motor Enthusiast’s Choice award has helped assure Chery as one of the top 10 vehicle brands in South Africa.

The Chery Tiggo 8 Pro MAX received the most votes from the public as their Car of the Year choice for 2023, which reflects the brand’s success in the retail market. Chery entered the local market in late 2021 and has fast grown to join the top 10 list of best-selling vehicle brands in the country.

It has sold 6,600 new Tiggo models this year and close to 20,000 units since 2021. Globally, Chery has sold more than 450,000 new cars in the first quarter of 2023. It has been the top-selling Chinese exporter in the world for the past 21 years.

Chery offers each owner a comprehensive mechanical warranty and service plan that includes a one million kilometre/10-year engine warranty.

Good sales

On 1 June, Naamsa released its latest vehicle sales stats. For the month of May, the local industry sold 43,060 units — which is up 10.1% year on year (or 3,959 vehicles). The May 2023 new passenger car market reflected a YoY volume increase of just 0.1% or 15 units — 27,401, from 27,386 in May 2022 —while light commercial vehicle sales increased by 38.5% or 3,564 units. Sales of medium commercial vehicles recorded a YoY increase of 2.7% or 15 units to 580. Heavy commercial segment sales improved by 365 units or 19.3% to 2,254.

Out of the total reported industry sales of 43,060 vehicles, an estimated 38,872 units or 90.2% were dealer sales, 2,100 units (4.9%) were vehicle rental industry sales, 1,164 units (2.7%) were sold to industry corporate fleets and 924 units (2.2%) were sold to the government.

The National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (Naamsa) CEO, Mikel Mabasa, warned that the automotive industry was facing multiple headwinds from the recent escalation of interest rate hikes, the depreciation of the rand on the back of geopolitical reputational harm over the Russia-Ukraine war, sectoral supply chain disruptions and producer and consumer inflationary pressures.

“An unprecedented operational environment is now redefining the performance of the automotive industry, with record high externalities for decades. These ongoing negative domestic and global economic activities directly affect the production mechanisms of the industry and therefore the cost of doing business in South Africa.”

Mabasa said the 10th consecutive interest rate hike announcement by the South African Reserve Bank last month resulted in a 14-year high repo rate and 11.25% prime lending rate.

“For the first time, inconsistent with emerging market currencies, the rand went into a free-flow mode to record lows. To top it all, by [5pm] on 09 May 2023, South Africa had been in the dark for as long as the entirety of 2022. To date, South Africans have spent 27% of the year without power, compared to 9.5% of 2022, and the situation is likely to get worse as the winter season intensifies.”

An economy hobbled by rolling blackouts would cause irreparable harm to the automotive industry which has become the successful cornerstone of industrialisation and development in South Africa, he said.

Business sentiment is pessimistic, he added, with threats to the certainty of South Africa’s future participation in the US trade agreement Agoa.

“An element now requiring a swift response from government to ease speculations. Equally so, the Naamsa in-house leading business confidence indicator of current and future developments in the domestic automotive industry, namely, the Naamsa CEOs’ Confidence Index, reflected a gloomy outlook for nearly all of the automotive industry’s key performance indicators over the next three months.”

On a positive note, sales of new energy vehicles (NEVs) by 16 industry brands showed a 14.5% increase (260 units) from 1,792 for the year to date to 2,052 units in April 2023.

South Africans may be without power, but increasingly, they are opting for NEVs to offset the rising cost of fuel. DM

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