Pure green did not necessarily sell in South Africa, said Toyota spokesperson Clynton Yon.
“Green is not something South Africans seem to be interested in,” he said.
“Our green models – mostly the hybrids in our range – sell in very small numbers in South Africa.”
Going green has become a trend for motor manufacturers worldwide. Toyota and Volkswagen are South Africa’s two top-selling brands and have clear strategies internationally to produce greener cars. Toyota has opted for mostly hybrid technology, while Volkswagen invested in low-carbon diesel technology.
“Clean diesels” was a crucial part of Volkswagen’s marketing strategy in the US.
This played a significant role in the German manufacturer’s attempts to fool US regulators about the levels of emissions of its diesel cars. Current US standards require that, on average, new cars must emit no more than 130g of CO2 per kilometre.
Volkswagen SA said South Africa did not have a legislative emission standard.
However, cars that emit more than 120g/km are taxed, which adds to the price South Africans will pay for a new car. Cars are taxed at R75 for every gram per kilometre above this threshold.
There were 8 472 new Volkswagens sold in South Africa in August, second only to Toyota’s 9 939, according to data from the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of SA.
Yon said while the buying of green cars internationally was encouraged through legislation, there are very few incentives in this country to push South Africa towards ecocars.
“In Los Angeles, there are dedicated lanes for green cars and, in London, you have to pay a congestion tax for your emissions,” he said.
Yet South Africans are very price-conscious when choosing their vehicle. Research done last year by Compass24, commissioned by Ads24 and conducted by Ask Afrika, showed the four most important factors that influence car-buying in South Africa.
First was the price tag (79%). Second, the vehicle make (67%). Third, the service history (42%). And fourth, a motor maintenance plan (42%).
And fuel economy is becoming a major selling point for car manufacturers.
“Fuel efficiency is a big selling point as it affects people’s pockets,” said Yon. “Our passenger cars – most of which are quite fuel efficient – do sell well. We had record sales for our Corollas in September.”
Despite the carbon taxation on new cars, Yon said this was generally absorbed by the manufacturers and dealers. At Toyota, no trend has emerged showing that carbon tax influences car sales.
Gert Grundlingh, director of automotive systems at market intelligence firm Lightstone Auto, said figures indicated a greater number of South Africans were opting for more fuel-efficient cars.
In 2013, at least 9% of passenger cars sold had a fuel consumption of less than 5 litres/100km.
In 2014, this share of the market increased to 11.6%, and over the first eight months of this year, the share of passenger vehicles sold with a fuel consumption of under 5 litres/100km had risen to 15.2%.
Also, the number of models available with a fuel consumption of below 5 litres/100km had grown from 139 in 2013 to 214 in 2015, Grundlingh said.
So far this year, the Volkswagen Polo 1.2 petrol model was the top seller for vehicles that consume fewer than 5 litres/100km – it sold more than 10 200 models.
The Polo consumes 4.9 litres/100km and its CO2 emission is 117g/km.
Volkswagen’s star diesel vehicle, the Polo 1.2 TDI, is even more economical with 3.4 litres/100km and emissions of only 89g/km, but it was not among the top sellers.
Coming in second, and with considerably fewer sales, were the Ford Eco Sport 1.5 diesel model, with 3 315 models sold. The Ford Eco Sport offered 4.5 litres/ 100km and emissions of 125g/km.
The Ford Fiesta 1.6 diesel model was probably the most fuel efficient among the top 20 fuel-efficient vehicles, coming in at 3.6 litres/100km and emitting 95g/km. About 651 of these cars were sold this year.
WesBank spokesperson Christo van Gemert said the Polo and Fiesta models had small, efficient engines across the range.
“These are also popular sellers – but they could be popular for cost reasons, not just their consumption,” he said.
None of the hybrids, electric cars or even Volkswagen’s “green” diesels made the Top 20 list.
Despite its growing popularity worldwide, the electric car market in South Africa is still minuscule.
But 2015 sales are already more than electric car sales in all of 2014 – 160 against 140 at the end of July.
In the US, an average of 50 000 electric cars are sold annually. And critics point out that although the car’s emission is zero, it still has a carbon footprint because of the car’s reliance on mostly coal-powered electricity.
Up until August, the BMW i8 was the top seller for electric cars in South African. It sold 67 models as opposed to its little brother, the i3, which sold 63.
Only 29 Nissan Leaf models were sold this year.