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Gerhard Horn: Great Time To Be In The Market

15 April 2014

A friend recently phoned to ask for advice on what car he should buy next. This happens all the time, and I’m always willing to point whoever asks me in the right direction.

The task of finding the right car is now tougher than ever, because people expect their cars to do much more, but they don’t want to pay more money for them.

Value for money is a hot topic at the moment and this is definitely a sign of the times. Back when I started out as a motoring hack, I’d ask those seeking advice what they wanted from their car. Four years ago the response included words like style, performance, luxury and space, and then somewhere further down the line, value for money. The latter has since moved up to a shared pole position with fuel economy.

You can hardly blame people for wanting a frugal bargain. With the petrol price shooting through the roof and government constantly grabbing at the motorist’s wallet, a few unfortunate sacrifices are necessary. This is why small car sales are going so well.

The smaller cars available these days often offer just as much luxury as their bigger brothers, while using less than half the fuel. The downside is a lack of space and more often than not, a drastic effect on a man’s ego.

My wife drives a bubblegum blue Kia Picanto and she looks lovely behind the wheel. It’s almost as though they were made for each other. On the other hand, I look ridiculous driving the Picanto – or at least I think I do –but this is mostly my own fault. I’m growing a beard in preparation of Oppikoppi’s 20-year reunion in August. I have this childish fantasy of arriving at Mordor (the Oppi camping grounds) sporting a massive Hell’s Angel-like beard. But for now a bubblegum blue car and a beard don’t go together, and I’m not the only male in this predicament. I’ve recommended smaller cars to a few male friends, who immediately dismiss the idea, simply because most of the vehicles available are a bit too cute for their liking.

Compact crossovers are undoubtedly the next big thing. We already have a few of them on sale in SA, but that’s nothing compared to the wave of models heading our way within the next two years. The recent Auto Expo in India played host to around ten new compact crossovers, and all signs point to an even bigger presence at the Geneva Show this month.

I can’t wait, because these cars are going to make my job a lot easier. Compact crossovers are relatively cheap, safe and spacious, and they display luxury and style. More importantly, I haven’t been able to find a single manufacturer that offers bubblegum blue as a colour option. The integrity of my beard, or any other beard for that matter, is at least safe for the next few years.

You can already see how successful this segment is going to be by looking at the sales figures for the three compact crossovers currently available locally. The Juke is doing great things for Nissan, while the Ford EcoSport and Renault Duster are slowly gaining support.

The obvious downside is a lack of serious off-road ability, but I have a sneaking suspicion that most people are only after the high riding position and sense of well being that only an SUV, albeit a small one, can offer.

I’m massively excited about this segment. Every time I see a new model, which is almost daily, I get this happy sensation in the pit of my stomach. These cars will soon have to battle it out to see which is the best, but the clear winner is already known. With so much choice heading our way, it’s great to be a consumer.

The effect of this segment is already making my life much easier. Someone recently gave me a list of prerequisites for his new car. He wanted something safe, spacious, stylish, economical and cheap. I told him about the compact crossovers already available, as well as the models heading our way. I suggested he test drive the new Renault Duster and Ford EcoSport, as both are great little cars.

The next time we attended the same function, I was happy to see a brand-new silver Duster parked on the street outside.