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Toyota’s legacy of being a top South African performance motormaker took a slightly different stance as the company entertained the nation’s interested press to gazing through a crystal ball to the future road ahead. With this said, Andrew Kirby said they would remain globally competitive with improved localisation, industry transformation and major regional market development.

With a huge ramp-up of people employed directly, Toyota now boasts some 7 500 employees and along with those come 348 black-owned supply companies. Toyota’s market sales growth also remains positive, says Kirby.

The customer landscape changes with prospective afrimillennial clients of the future. The gathered team of experts, Andrew Kirby, CEO of Toyota, Lumkile Mondi, economist, Marion Burger, Toyota financial services and Bret Morris, CEO of FCB, all had their turn dealing with the implications of the future.

Car sharing versus ownership

With many European and North American automotive markets reaching maturity, customers are reconsidering the role of a privately-owned car with respect to their financial wellbeing. Owning a depreciating asset, which is only used two hours a day, and sits mostly idle, has become notably less appealing in Californian and German cities where public transport is nearly perfect and Uber ubiquitous.

In these markets, the automotive future could be one where one purchases credits in a car brand, and exchanges them for specific product use allocations. Perhaps you need a van for a weekend away, or a coupé to impress at a social occasion. The South African market, though, is largely markedly different.

Toyota sees South Africa as being under-mobilised in terms of outright car ownership. There are a great many South Africans who aspire to own a car, but do not have the means and aren’t having the best possible public transport experience either.

Those factors generate tremendous future growth potential for new car sales. The vast distances driven in South Africa, makes car sharing an unlikely future scenario – and for many owning a private car still represents the ultimate in autonomy of movement and freedom of flexibility of schedule.

Stages of autonomous driving

Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi have all, in the last year and a bit, released products to the South African market which have an untold level of autonomous driving technology. Cars which can ‘lock-on’ to traffic at highway speeds, and with the driving ceding braking and steering responsibility to the sensors, effectively drive autonomously.

The issue of fully autonomous driving, the promise of that seamless convenience where you board a vehicle which drives you in traffic where you wish to go, without any driver input, allowing the driver/passenger to work or be entertained in-car, is perhaps not a future scenario for South Africa.

Challenges ahead

Kirby was curt about the potential problems of running true full level five autonomy on South African roads. Kirby says, “For all the sensors and cameras to work, you need a lot of investment in road infrastructure, and an environment where there are no older technology cars on the road. If all the cars have similar levels of sensory technology, able to recognise each other, then it’s a harmonised system. It works. But in South Africa, we are still initiating first-time car owners each year, and the price point for autonomous technology cars are way beyond what most would be able to afford. There is no wishing away of the older cars which serve a valuable purpose for their owners.”

This doesn’t mean that South Africans won’t benefit at all from the global drive to autonomous driving technology.

Kirby concluded: “There’s a massive, generally unrecognised, benefit, and that is safety. With more cars with radar/sonar guided cruise control and autonomous emergency collision avoidance braking, you really can radically reduce accidents.”