Older vehicles to blame for road safety issues?

Ever wondered how many vehicles there are on South African roads and what their average age is? Also, are our roads less safe owing to the decline of new vehicles sales?

Car Parc1 Pieter Wessels

To get answers to this, Dealerfloor spoke to Pieter Wessels, Lightstone Auto’s Managing Director, following their release on the impact of lower new vehicles sales on road safety.

But first, how many cars are there on our roads today and how old are they?

“The South African Vehicle domestic vehicle population (or Parc) is estimated to be 10.5 million vehicles, the biggest in Africa. This excludes motorcycles and non-motorised vehicles. The current average age of a vehicle is 10 years and 6 months,” Pieter tells us.

Of this number of vehicles, passenger cars account for 67% of the Parc, light commercial for 28%, and the remaining 5% is commercial and buses.

Lightstone’s Parc number is based on a 30-year Parc. Vehicles older than 30 years represent about 0.5% of all vehicles, and Lightstone Auto only includes manufacturers that subscribe to naamsa. Some smaller manufacturers are partially excluded and represent between 3.5% and 4% of the volumes.

The question whether our roads are less safe with an ageing car population, is complex.

New vehicle sales over the last decade have struggled to reach 2005 and 2008 levels, despite a bit of respite between 2012 and 2015. Relatively lower levels of sales have been further impacted in the last two years by the measures taken in response to COVID-19.

This may lead one to believe that the roads are less safe, given that older vehicles have a higher likelihood of malfunctioning and causing accidents.

While this appears to be the case at first glance, the situation may not be as dire as a result of lulls in demand skewing overall data. Pieter breaks down the data in this regard.

“This declining growth in the domestic vehicle population (or Parc) bottomed out in 2020. In addition to lower levels of growth in the vehicle Parc, there has been a significant shift in the age of vehicles. In 2012, 60% of the vehicle population was between 0 and 10 years old, and by 2014 this percentage had increased to 62%.

“At the same stages in 2012 and 2014, the 11- to 20-year-old band made up 33% and 32% of the Parc respectively. In the years since then, these percentages changed to the point where currently the sub-10-year age band only makes up 53% of the vehicle population, while the 11 to 20 band enjoys a 42% share.

“If one were to compare the actual Passenger age band volumes for the two-year windows from 2012 to present, it becomes easier to track the performance of each band relative to the other years. While the volume of vehicles in the 21- to 30-year band has remained relatively constant, the 11- to 20-year group has grown steadily over the past 10 years, assisted by the ageing of the vehicles purchased in the 2005 to 2008 bubble.

“The 6- to 10-year band has fluctuated as the vehicles from both bubbles move through this age group, while the 0- to 5-year-old vehicles reached a peak in 2016 at the end of the 2012 to 2015 bubble and has been steadily shrinking over the course of the intervening years.

“With the market growth expected in 2022, the youngest Passenger band should begin to recover in the next few years, once again allowing for a decrease in the average age of vehicles.

“So, to answer the question, ‘no, the roads are not less safe’ – at least not as a result of the ageing Parc. While we all wish demand could stay sky-high all the time, that’s simply not possible. That’s what we’re seeing here: a decrease in demand has created a latent impact on the aggregate Parc age. This doesn’t mean we’re seeing a higher number of unroadworthy vehicles, nor that the aggregate Parc age will continue to increase.” Pieter says.

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