Toyota Logo (RoySamuelson)
Cruise around the highways of Durban, Johannesburg or Cape Town and you’re bound to see one sooner or later.
The Toyota Corolla is the world’s best selling car, with over 40 million units sold worldwide and one million in South Africa alone.
“There is a big demand with people (in South Africa) saying ‘give us a car with a good size that’s affordable,'” explains Leon Theron, general manager of technical services at Toyota South Africa, of the model’s popularity. “(So) that’s what we did.”
Toyota has been manufacturing cars in South Africa since the 1970s and has adapted its technology to cope with the country’s unique set of challenges — rough terrain, warm temperatures and high altitudes.
It’s a long-term philosophy that has paid dividends and also opened doors in other African markets.
“There’s a motto at Toyota, a Japanese phrase ‘genji kembutso,'” says Leon Theron, general manager of technical services at Toyota South Africa.
“It means go the source and see for yourself. That is the secret of Toyota, being local in every market where it serves. They have gone to the source and tried to say … how do we respond to those issues?”
Yet despite the Japanese manufacturer’s enduring popularity in South Africa and beyond, numerous challenges remain on the horizon.
New car sales have declined for two consecutive years in South Africa with a 4% drop in 2015, according to the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers.
Another lackluster year for the new car market is expected in 2016 with the rand recently hitting record lows against the dollar forcing consumers to hit the brakes on big purchases.
“The consumer is becoming a lot wiser and instead of the emotional purchase they start looking at cost of ownership,” explains Julian Visagie, general manager of the Monument Toyota Constantia dealership in Johannesburg.
Competitors such as Germany’s Volkswagen also loom large in the Toyota rear view mirror, ensuring the pressure is on to align cost with quality and desirability.
“I don’t think there’s been a sexy corolla since the days of the old RXi6 speed, says Mark Smyth, editor of the Business Day Motoring supplement.
“We’re getting the run of the mill (and) the country requires slightly different cars…due to bad roads. Akio Toyoda (president and CEO of Toyota) says now Toyota needs to be cool again… I think that’s what Toyota South Africa and Africa also needs to do.”
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