What we paid for new cars in 2002 and what we're paying now
Everyone is feeling the pinch in these tough economic times. Interest rates are at their highest since 2009, while load-shedding continues to batter businesses and citizens. A slight drop in the petrol price offers a negligible saving amid the cost of living, which is increasing beyond what salaries can maintain.
The rose-tinted perspective of hindsight often prompts the thought that things were better before. In February 2003, when former president Thabo Mbeki delivered his state of the nation address, our country's economy seemed healthy.
“Manufacturing grew by 5,4% in 2002, the fastest growth since 1995,” he said. “Our currency has wrested back the losses it suffered during 2001. During 2002, it recorded its first annual gain against the US dollar in 15 years.”
Mbeki said that in the first three quarters of 2002, household consumption expenditure grew by an average of 3,2%, while disposable income increased by more than 3,5%. He added that household debt as a percentage of disposable income was at its lowest since 1993.
What did the new car market look like 21 years ago?
A copy of Car magazine from February 2002 opens to comment by editor John Wright in praise of diesel engine technologies. He called for cleaner, low-sulphur fuel to be legislated. At the time, diesel in passenger car applications was taking off. A year prior, the BMW 320d became the first diesel to win a South African Car of the Year competition. In 2002, the Audi A4 1.9 TDi won.
As we know, in 2023, diesel is very much a dirty word in first-world markets and the prevailing wind favours electrification. There was a full-page advertisement for a BMW 525i Touring and a whole category dedicated to station wagons in the publication’s Top 12 Best Buys list — in 2023 the estate car is extinct locally.
According to the pricing guide at the back of the magazine, the cheapest car in the country at the time was the Fiat Uno Mia 1100 three-door, costing R46,997. An inflation calculator indicates this would be equivalent to R145,650 today. A 41kW/87Nm four-cylinder petrol engine hustled the small Italian hatchback to 100km/h in 15 seconds!
Now, the most affordable new passenger vehicle in Mzansi is the Suzuki S-Presso 1.0 GL manual for R169,900. The entry-level Uno was as basic as can be, with no audio system, central locking, air-conditioning, power steering, electric windows, anti-lock brakes, immobiliser or airbags. The Suzuki has all of these, attesting to how far the budget compact archetype has evolved.
By contrast, the most expensive passenger car listed in February 2002 was the Porsche 911 (996) Turbo Tiptronic, yours for R1,510,000, powered by a 3,600cc flat-six producing 309kW/560Nm, with a claimed sprint time of five seconds. Crazy to think of hybrids displacing a 2.0-litre dash to 100km/h faster than that in the modern world. The price of the Turbo would be equivalent to R4,679,716 today. A basic 911 (992) Turbo is listed new on the Porsche South Africa website for R4,343,000.
Sedans were a South African staple. At the time, Audi had launched its B6 A4, which was imported, unlike its predecessor. The base price was R186,000 for the 2.0-litre model. The BMW 3-Series (E46), built in Tshwane, carried a price of R177,000 for the 318i. The W203 Mercedes-Benz C-Class, hailing from East London, cost upwards of R188,000 (C180 Classic).
The inflation calculator puts this ballpark between R548,549 and R582,640 in 2023 money — the modern-day counterparts of the A4, 3-Series and C-Class start at R740,700, R780,000 and R998,100 respectively. You could get into an Audi A1 for under R500,000 new, but the most basic BMW 1-Series starts at more than R600,000 today and an entry-level Mercedes-Benz A-Class begins at R729,554.
It was sad to note nameplates that are no longer on the South African market. Models like the Ford Focus, Nissan Sentra, Opel Astra, Subaru Impreza, Toyota Camry and Volkswagen Jetta will be remembered fondly by consumers. There were also brands that disappeared altogether: Daihatsu, Saab, MG, Rover, Daewoo, Chevrolet, Chrysler and Cadillac.
So what were people paying for the 2002 equivalents of our current top-five best-selling models in the country?
The Toyota Hilux ranged from R97,430 for the 2000 SWB to R183,995 for the 3.0 D 4x4. A single-cab Hilux starts at R346,200 now, while the 2.8 4x4 Legend RS costs R937,000.
Ford’s Ranger cost between R97,210 and R189,140 in 2002. Today, the most expensive Ranger is the monstrous, twin-turbocharged-petrol V6 Raptor, for R1,149,700.
Last month the Volkswagen Polo Vivo was the nation’s third-best-selling new vehicle. Of course, there was no Polo Vivo in 2002, but the brand’s entry point was served by the Citi Golf Chico 1.3 model. It cost R56,850 (R176,186 in 2023 money). The base Vivo in 2023 costs R248,500.
In 2002, the concept of a Toyota Corolla crossover did not exist locally. But the conventional Corolla sedan was very much a mainstay, ranging in price from R82,065 for the 130 to R161,610 for the sporty RXi, which is just over R500,000 today, adjusted for inflation.
Toyota sells three versions of the Corolla in 2023: the Quest (from R316,600), the regular sedan (from R528,100) and the Cross (from R392,600).
Last month, the fifth best-selling new vehicle in Mzansi was the Isuzu D-Max. Back in 2002, the bakkie series was known as the KB, starting at R112,700 for the 200 LWB and topping off at R212,906 for the KB 320 LX LWB 4x4. Quite expensive for a bakkie at that time — equivalent to R659,827 today. On Isuzu’s website, the most expensive new D-Max is the 4x4 V-Cross automatic for R857,700.
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