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South Africans “don’t want” electric cars – But sales figures say otherwise

The general sentiment in the automotive sphere seems to be that South Africans are not big fans of electric cars, but the market is telling a very different story as their sales figures are growing at an exponential rate.

According to the latest data from Naamsa, the Automotive Business Council, the sale of new-energy vehicles (NEVs) has grown by a staggering 83% between the first quarter of 2023 and 2024.

Changing with the times

The term new-energy vehicles refers to three different types of electrified powertrains in modern cars – plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), traditional hybrids (HEVs), and battery-electrics (BEVs).

Naamsa’s most recent quarterly review shows that 3,042 NEVs were sold in South Africa in the first three months of 2024 compared to 1,665 units during the same period last year – an increase of 82.7%.

The vast majority of these are coming from HEVs, which accounted for 2,574 purchases while PHEVs and BEVs found 138 and 330 buyers, respectively.

However, PHEVs actually saw the greatest year-on-year increase going from 25 to 138 sales – a 138% improvement.

That’s not to say the other groups didn’t perform well, as HEVs grew 58% from 1,408 to 2,574 purchases, and BEVs went up 42% from 232 to 330 units.

What’s even more impressive is the fact that the 3,042 NEVs sold in the first quarter of 2024 are already equivalent to 39% of all the NEVs sold in the whole of 2023.

You can see a breakdown of NEV sales in South Africa from 2019 to Q1 2024 in the table below:

Type 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 Q1 2023 Q1 2024
Plug-in hybrid 72 77 51 122 333 25 138
Traditional hybrid 181 155 627 4,050 6,484 1,408 2,574
Electric 154 92 218 502 929 232 330
Total NEVs: 407 324 896 4,674 7,746 1,665 3,042

It’s important to note that NEVs finally breached more than 1% of all vehicle sales in South Africa in 2023, meaning that hybrids and electrics are anticipated to achieve an even greater market share by the end of 2024 if purchases maintain their current trajectory.

More choice and better prices

NEV adoption has been relatively slow in South Africa compared to the rest of the world owing to high prices and a lack of options, but the introduction of new models in recent years is starting to change this trend.

HEVs took off between 2021 and 2022, which is uncoincidentally the time in which popular brands like Toyota launched affordable units like the Corolla Cross Hybrid that quickly became one of the best-selling crossovers in the country.

Likewise, carmakers like BMW are launching PHEV versions of fan-favourite SUVs like the X1, widening the appeal of the concept to new buyers.

The biggest winners over the last year, however, are BEVs, as the market has welcomed several new models that have continued to slash the price floor for fully-electrics.

This includes the BYD Atto 3 and Volvo EX30, which lowered the barrier-to-entry for electric crossovers by R340,000, and the GWM Ora – which currently holds the title of South Africa’s cheapest BEV at R686,950.

Two more hatchbacks are also coming this year which will lower the cost threshold even further, including the R539,900 BYD Dolphin and the sub-R400,000 Dayun Yuehu.

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