In the recent HyperMobility virtual conference, I got to address the burning question: Is South Africa ready for future mobility? But ahead of me answering the question, We need to agree that it has become #MobilityUnusual especially now with the COVID_19 pandemic and lockdown and its effects on the automotive industry in South Africa.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane and I will unpack the differences between 2020 and 2019, specifically how the industry has been impacted by lockdown levels 4 and 5 and also on how the industry recovered with trading commencing 31 October 2020 and lockdown level 3. Thankfully, the automotive retail industry was able to rebound to the unprecedented times and adapt quickly in a short space of time. These trends are fully outlined in our bespoke report titled #MobilityUnusual and you can download it here:

Data – the roadmap of the future

At AutoTrader, we believe that data is the roadmap to future mobility. And while we can’t predict the future, I used to believe that we could plan for it. And if this was a year ago, I would definitely say ‘You can plan for the future.’ We could never have planned for this global pandemic.

It hit us hard and in an already uncertain future, this thing crept in and big companies like Edcon,  Comair and even many print publications in South Africa, almost, or did, see their demise. The future is definitely uncertain.

Shifts in consumer shopping behaviour

We’ve seen that COVID-19 and national lockdown has caused a fundamental shift in consumer shopping behaviour. Although dealers started trading from the middle of May 2020, I want us to focus on June – October 2020, which is the start of the full trading month of June for automotive retailers.

Though COVID-19 has been the major focus of 2020, it would be wise of us as an industry to take an even bigger step back and accept that our industry was already changing. Nonetheless, arguably faster than it ever has before. The next wave of real change can be boiled down to just two words. And those two words are electric vehicles. In my opinion, this is a good and a necessary change. A shift away from the dirty fuel to a greener, cleaner, and more sustainable planet that we all want to live on.

Therefore, keeping a close eye on the data will help ensure the shift and ensure that it has a positive impact on our local automotive industry, rather than a disruptive one.

2020 – a mobility rollercoaster year

Let me take you through this roller coaster year – 2020 and reveal some consumer insights. Because I think that, looking in the rear-view mirror we’ve managed to avoid a head on collision. We came really close to a train smash. 

We lobbied the government together, keeping communication lines open between car dealers, customers and the industry, doors opened just in time because the South African people still needed cars for various reasons and needed to trade cars for various reasons.

There are two driving forces which are evident in the data, and we should take note of them.

  1. Macroeconomic factors: though we were predicting about a -5% decline in the market even before lockdown, we saw a -2.8% decline from 2018 into 2019.
  2. Shift in consumer mindset: when the first case of COVID-19 hit on the 5th of March, it was a dark time for the South Africa automotive industry and no one could have predicted what would come next.

We started looking at the data and saw something interesting – a pronounced consumer mind shift not during lockdown but the day before lockdown, where our single day traffic, search and conversion declined by -45% year on year, in a single day. We lost almost half of the search traffic that we had gained over years and years. We can only assume that it was due to consumers panic buying essential goods. On a positive note, consumer traffic, searches and conversion started to rise from the very next day after lockdown and we started to see a significant and pronounced increasing trend every single day thereafter. So much so, that AutoTrader has had record months in traffic, search and conversion ever since. Growing at almost 50% YoY consistently.

Side Note: I keep speaking about growing a brand. This is evidence of brand strength in tough times. We have built a strong brand over a decade, leading up to COVID-19.  The evidence, the vast majority of our traffic is direct and not bought!

Consumers react in unexpected ways

When lockdown happened, consumers reacted in unexpected ways. Not just that, car buyer reacted almost immediately There is a wealth of data to support this notion, here are a few:

    Consumers became insomniacs: we saw a 20% rise in traffic search and conversion between the hours of 11:00 PM and 3:00 AM and a 78% increase between 1am and 2am…who’s awake at that time?

    Consumers were buying down: there was a buying down trend where we saw a 15% increase in searches for vehicles < R50,000 and a 29% increase in vehicles <R100k. We also saw a 20% increase in searches for vehicles <R200k

    Armoured vehicles: consumers started searching for armoured vehicles – we saw 10 X MORE searches during lockdown level 1, this was possibly a result of the increase in crime levels.

Future Mobility is Personal Mobility over Shared Mobility currently

We also found that there was a shift to personal mobility. We used ‘AutoTrader’ as a proxy for the search for vehicles or cars and the term ‘Uber’ as a proxy for shared mobility,  what you see is the consumer demand for shared mobility drop through the floor and the consumer demand for personal mobility rise to the point where personal mobility demand now exceeds the demand for shared mobility. This is more than likely due to South Africans being forced to make unprecedented changes to the way in which they lived and still live; personal hygiene in general, cleanliness of everyday environments.

Electric vehicles will disrupt our automotive future

The advent of electric vehicles will either benefit or disrupt our automotive future however. When it comes to the initial investment to adopt an electric vehicle, it becomes unrealistic the longer we wait. The more we wait, the closer we get to the drop-dead dates put in place by Europe not accepting ICE vehicles. In addition to the disruption to our exports, if we don’t adopt electric vehicles we won’t be able to get our hands on any ICE vehicles post circa 2035.

Electric vehicle buyers survey shows strong consumer appetite

We recently compiled the first ever South African Electric Vehicle Buyers survey in partnership with Generation.e and we were surprised that South Africans are ready for electric vehicle adoption.

68% of consumers say they want to buy an electric vehicle within the next 3 – 5 years. Respondents in the survey, believe that electric vehicles should fully charge under one hour at public fast charging stations whilst 45% say it should take less than 30 minutes to charge at a fast charging station. But in order to buy an electric vehicle, consumers want the electric vehicles to charge in less than 30 minutes at a fast charging station.

Another concern of consumers is range anxiety, where 45.9% of respondents in the survey believe that the average electric vehicle delivers up to 300 kilometres on a single charge is accurate, but when it comes to buying, most consumers want to have a 500 kilometre range.

So, what does the perfect electric vehicle look like for South African adoption?

    costs under R500k

    has a 500 kilometre range

    full home charging in under 12 hours

    full public charging in under 30 minutes

Short term solution to the adoption of EVs:

  • Working with government in reducing taxes on EVs (all taxes, not only import taxes but company car taxes, parking taxes, toll taxes, etc!)
  • Education of the car buying and driving public in lifestyle changes. Changing to notion of “destination filling”.

EV brands consumers believe are on SA roads

In terms of which brands are top of consumer’s minds, BMW wins just like BMW wins on searches on AutoTrader, however brands like Toyota are on the list and yet they don’t have any electric vehicles in South Africa.

Brands consumers trust to manufacture EVs

BMW still wins out as the brand most trusted by consumers to manufacture electric vehicles, but, surprisingly, Tesla comes in second – not yet in the country.

There is strong evidence that South Africa is ready to adopt electric vehicles, the question is, do you think South Africa is ready?

I think we are, but what is your role going to be?

And what role are you going to play in bridging this gap as an OEM, as government officials, consumers, dealers, and as a society and a continent to ensure that we retain our automotive industry.

Our automotive industry in South Africa is OURS TO LOSE.

Visit to download the full #MobilityUnusual report.