Owning a car is important to many South Africans - as a symbol of independence, a way to get around or as a status symbol. However, with high petrol prices, people are tending to buy smaller cars from the B- and C-segment.
With today's current trend to provide well-equipped cars in these categories, consumers do not need to forgo creature comforts to get transportation that is more efficient but the balance between offering a cheap car and one that offers good value for money, is a fine line that can make or break a model's success in the local market.
Previously the bigger the car, the more status it yielded from the casual observer. Today, smaller cars offer more creature comforts than luxury cars from a decade ago and deliver efficiency. Catering to the consumer's increasingly more discerning taste, they are becoming status symbols in their own right. The trick is to have the right product with the right mix of safety, comfort and convenience features that makes the car desirable, while being able to deliver it to market at the right price.
Features now standard
Determining the feature mix for each model is a constantly moving target. What were nice-to-have features a few years ago have become standard requirements today. Therefore, most entry-level vehicles today will have side impact bars, at least two airbags, air conditioning, a radio and power steering amongst many other standard features. To set models apart, a higher-end vehicle in the same category typically needs to incorporate items like advanced active and passive safety features, multiple airbags, Bluetooth/Voice control, sunroof, USB and auxiliary ports. Nowadays some of these cars also feature items like parking sensors - all features that motor manufacturers need to consider following direct feedback from their customers.
Staying ahead of trends means motor vehicle manufacturers need to combine facts and economic reality, with vision and crystal ball gazing. There is a misconception that someone in the finance department determines specification levels, but it is the consumer that dictates much of what we find a car today.
Social media influence
In this respect, social media has begun to play a critical role in determining future vehicle features. Blogs and tweets have resulted in new standard features. Items like vanity mirrors in the driver's sun visor, hooks in the boot that prevent bags from falling over and even sunglass holders are just a few examples of convenience features that have been added to cars after listening to customers online.
So, how do we decide what will sell in the South African market? Determining whether to bring a particular model into the country typically involves a five-year process that incorporates competitor and financial analyses, pricing feasibility studies and in-depth market research including that social media feedback element
Adding costs to a vehicle adds to the price of the vehicle. Pricing a vehicle with a desirable specification level that offers value for money has been a challenge that, if tackled masterfully, can deliver benefits for the manufacturer and consumer alike; manufacturers move greater volumes of vehicles and consumers get the cars that they have always wanted, blogged or even tweeted about.
Ingenuity is important when serving South Africa's famously meticulous and status-oriented market. Of course, there will always be entry-level vehicles for first-time vehicle owners or people who only need the basics. However, there will also be the premium vehicles aimed at high-end market, as well as motor manufacturers that strive to offer innovation at a price that is accessible to the masses - whether it is an entry-, mid- or high-end vehicle, so going smaller, nowadays, does not necessarily mean going without.
(And for some great photos of small cars, click here.)