The combined sales of the three German juggernauts – Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz – sank from 71,889 units in 2014 to just 26,202 in 2023.
In contrast, sales volumes of Asian automakers including Chery, Haval, and Suzuki have skyrocketed – with the latter alone seeing its annual registrations grow from 6,402 to 47,201 units over the past decade.
However, it’s not that consumers don’t want to buy European cars anymore, it’s that they are generally nop longer able to afford them in the current economic landscape.
Data from Bankserv Africa showed that in 2014, the average South African salary was around R11,641 per month. In October of the same year, the price of a base BMW 3 Series was R389,936.
Today, the average take-home pay has risen to R15,409 per month, however, the most affordable 3 Series commands a minimum spend of R827,894.
Put simply, the mean salary grew by a mere 32% between 2014 and 2024, while the price of the BMW sedan shot up by a staggering 112% over the same period. It isn’t alone, as the window stickers of Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and all other premium automakers mirrored the BMW’s.
The result of this: high-end manufacturers have lost substantial market share in South Africa over the last decade and budget-friendly nameplates, mainly from Asia, have benefitted immensely from this decline.
The local sales figures of the main automakers from the two regions are compared below:
Consumers are feeling the pinch
Responding to inquiries from Daily Investor, BMW South Africa said the overall passenger car market shrunk tremendously since 2014, and as a premium brand, it has been hit hard by this contraction.
Compounding these effects is the fact that, due to the difficult economic environment in South Africa coupled with a wider variety of affordable vehicles imported from Eastern economies, a “buying-down trend” emerged in the local market in recent years.
BMW attributed the decreased affordability of its vehicles to higher interest rates, deteriorating exchange rates, and rising inflation, which affected both business confidence and consumer sentiment.
Audi echoed its rival and stated that it is crucial to look at the decline in the premium market and passenger car sales in general as a reason for lower sales of high-end vehicles, rather than just pricing.
Audi noted that South African households are under immense financial pressure and choosing to buy down, not replace their vehicles at all, or only sell them much later than they usually would, has become a common trend.