Why Chinese car brands are on the rise in South Africa

In the used car market, Chery's sales soared by 119% in 2023.
In the used car market, Chery's sales soared by 119% in 2023.
Image: Supplied

There has been a marked shift in consumer perception of Chinese cars. And there's a good reason for that. 

Some years back, Chinese cars had a reputation for lagging in quality and safety. Despite their affordable prices, locals shied away from Chinese-branded cars, opting for the proven quality, safety, reliability and longevity of traditional European and Japanese automotive brands.

Since then, Chinese car brands have reinvented themselves, stepping up to address quality and safety aspects and introducing products with luxury features and industry-leading warranties. Affordability, however, remains a mainstay of Chinese brands. 

In recent years, Chinese brands like Chery, Haval, Great Wall Motors (GWM), JAC and Omoda have narrowed the sales gap, increasing their share of the domestic market once dominated by traditional German, British, Swedish, US and Japanese car brands.

In the used car market, sales of Chinese-branded models have surged, clearly illustrating the success of Chinese brands.

“Chinese brands have been astute in their approach to the South African market, focusing on popular body types like SUVs and bakkies as well as introducing quality products that fit the purpose and pockets of South Africa’s increasingly cash-strapped buyers,” says AutoTrader CEO George Mienie.

In 2023, sales of used Chery models soared by 119% compared to 2022, helped in large part by industry-leading warranties and luxury features. Sales of Omoda (a new marque established by Chery) models also rose with 118 units moving through the AutoTrader platform in 2023. Like the Chery Tiggo 4 Pro, the Omoda C5 SUV which is a 2024 SA Car of the Year finalist, boasts a 10-year/one-million kilometre engine warranty. 

Haval too posted a gain of 51.1% in used car sales, its polished and affordable SUVs like the Haval Jolian helping to elevate the Chinese brand.

JAC and GWM’s budget bakkies drove sales up by 16.2% and 16%, respectively in 2023. GWM recently introduced its retro-styled EV hatchback, the Ora 3. As South Africa's cheapest electric vehicle, the nippy EV with its impressive fit and finish, will likely assist in a further uptick in sales. 

The ‘cheap Chinese car’ of yesteryear had little credibility with local car buyers. But that is no longer the case. Presently, local buyers appear more receptive to the now-upmarket Chinese-branded vehicles. And that’s challenging the sales of legacy automotive brands.


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