NATIONAL NEWS - Financial constraints and distress being felt by consumers are restricting the ability of vehicle manufacturers and dealers to pass on price increases.
The latest vehicle price index report released by TransUnion shows that new vehicle prices increased by 3.1% in the second quarter from 2.6% in the previous quarter, while used vehicle prices dropped sharply to 1% from 2.5%.
Kriben Reddy, head of Auto for TransUnion Africa, says the South African car market continues to struggle, with the bulk of the buying activity currently taking place in the used car sector as financially stretched consumers increasingly opt for older cars at lower price points.
Reddy says people continue to spend less on cars, with a clear shift back to vehicles priced at under R200 000 as consumers continue to feel the strain on their disposable income.
He says the percentage of both new and used cars being financed below R200 000 is at levels last seen in the second quarter of 2013. This effectively means the purchasing power of consumers has not changed since that time and has decreased in real terms after taking inflation into account.
Reddy says the buying power of consumers has not changed in the last five or six years and many consumers are financially distressed, which means vehicle manufacturers and retailers cannot pass on price increases.
Delinquency levels up
He adds that over the past two to three-quarters, delinquent vehicle and asset finance accounts (three months or more in arrears) had started to increase.
“It’s not significant at the moment but you can see a slight uptick in those numbers,” he says.
Azar Jammine, the chief economist at Econometrix, says new vehicle pricing is being significantly influenced by the financial distress of consumers.
He adds that this does not only apply to the vehicle industry but the entire economy.
“Businesses are not able to pass on cost increases the way they used to because of the financial position of consumers. This is one of the important reasons for inflation being as subdued as it is.”
Jammine says the impact of higher taxes and utility costs, such as electricity, water and property rates and taxes, on the ability of consumers to spend on new vehicles is interesting.
“That is why I think vehicle manufacturers are being obliged to keep their increases as low as possible.”
Jammine believes the recent 0.5 percentage point reduction in interest rates will only prevent new vehicle sales from falling more steeply, and not boost sales. “Times are tough,” he says.
According to Reddy, the number of vehicles financed dropped 7% quarter-on-quarter in Q2 for new vehicles and 2% for used vehicles – despite the vehicle price index for both remaining below inflation, with used-vehicle price increases at their lowest level since the second quarter of 2014.
He says there is a direct correlation between current macroeconomic conditions – with the country’s negative GDP growth of 3.1% for the first quarter the lowest in 10 years – and the constrained new-vehicle market.
Shift towards used vehicles
There has also been a shift towards used vehicles, with the used-to-new vehicle ratio increasing to 2.16 used vehicles financed for every new vehicle financed in Q2 2019 from 2.05 in Q2 2018.
Reddy says there is also a shift in the make-up of used vehicle sales – 34% of used vehicles financed in the quarter were under two years old, with 6% being ex-demonstration models.
“This indicates consumers are opting for older vehicles as pressure on their disposable income increases,” he says.
“The average finance period is close to the 72-month mark now. Consumers are financing for longer periods because of affordability issues and to get their monthly repayment to a more acceptable and reasonable level. But the challenge there is that it keeps you out of the market for longer.”
Reddy anticipates that car sales will be under pressure for the rest of the year, but is cautiously optimistic about an improvement next year.