DEMAND for new vehicles in Africa is on the rise with the size of the automotive market forecast to grow from 1.7 million vehicles in 2013 to more than two million by 2016.
This is driven by increased urbanisation, a growing middle class and significant infrastructure investment.
The African automotive market in Zambia is particularly influenced by factors akin to economic trends but to a larger extent, owning a vehicle is still more of a symbol of status than it is a necessity.
It then goes with reason that people want to drive cars with peculiar features in terms of colour, size, shape, much less the noise it makes if only to symbolise the size and power of the engine.
In spite of all that, there is also the price of vehicles on the market which is why the used car market mainly from Japan and lately the United Kingdom dominates the market share compared to showroom sellers of brand new vehicles.
So for a symbol of status many people are now going for the biggest cars which gives credence to the statistic that the Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) are the hottest cakes.
Last week, General Motors brought together journalists from Angola, Kenya, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe for the launch of the 2014 Chevrolet Trailblazer in Nelspruit, South Africa where they went on a 50 kilometre test drive and an awesome 4×4 off-road experience.
The Trailblazer, which is manufactured in Thailand and is sold in key markets globally, is now available in Angola, Gabon, Kenya and Nigeria.
In Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, the updated 2014 Trailblazer model range is being introduced with upgraded specifications and enhanced engines to present an even more all-encompassing SUV option.
Giving the market statistics during the launch, GM Southern Africa vice-president Brian Olson said Zambia is the leading market for the Trailblazer in Southern Africa.
Mr Olson said Zambia accounts for 49 per cent of the market share way ahead of the region’s biggest economy South Africa which stands at 20 per cent with Zimbabwe at 18 per cent.
He said though Zambia had a relatively smaller market for SUVs, the country has sold more than market expectations of the Trailblazer.
“We know that Zambia, like other African markets, is not known for SUV’s or new vehicles considering the dominant used car market, but it is our leading market in the Sub-Saharan Africa,” he said.
He admitted that the Trailblazer faced stiff competition from the Toyota Fortuner and other ranges of used cars in most African markets but that GM had paid attention to their customers’ terrains and aspirations.
Speaking at the launch, Ian Nicholls, vice-president of operations for GM South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa explained that GM has hit the ground running on the African markets and the Trailblazer will just project business to unstoppable heights.
“In 2013 our African operations saw 167 000 new vehicles enter the market, with the highest volumes seen in Egypt and South Africa.
‘‘In Egypt, and despite the challenging political and economic environment, we sold over 56,000 vehicles, accounting to a market share of 24.6 per cent and representing a three point six per cent growth in volumes versus the previous year,” he said.
He said 2014 is set to be an important year for GM in Sub-Saharan Africa markets after 2013 which saw the introduction of the new Isuzu KB pick-up, which is assembled in South Africa, to Zimbabwe,
Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and Mauritius, and in February reached left-hand drive markets including Angola.
The Trailblazer aims to build on GM’s track record for serving local market needs with quality products, alongside well-established supply and distribution networks, putting GM in a strong position for substantial expansion across the continent from solid manufacturing bases in South Africa, Kenya and Egypt who serve more than 300 dealer outlets on the continent.
GM invested more than US$ 140-million into African operations since 2010 which is a clear signal that major opportunities have been identified and the company is building its business in Africa.
“There is no doubt that we are taking the opportunity to grow our business on this continent very seriously, based not on current market conditions but on future potential growth opportunities.
“Now is the time to capitalise on this, and today’s launch of the 2014 Chevrolet Trailblazer send out a strong message about our future intentions in Africa,” Mr Nicholls said.
The Trailblazer is now set to continue finding new roads in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, with versatility, off-road ability and on-road stability strengthening the name plate in the growing markets.
GM Planning Manager for Africa, Dominic Rimmer, says the Trailblazer continues to make in-roads into the ever growing SUV segment in Africa where a well-informed market knows what it wants from a vehicle of its calibre.
“We are particularly proud to integrate the Chevrolet MyLink infotainment system into the Trailblazer range, which puts it comfortably at the front of the pack in its class, and with the more powerful diesel engine offerings.
Trailblazer has become even more suitable as both a lifestyle vehicle and an off-road driving asset,” he said.
The Trailblazer model feature enhanced specifications including a rear view camera as standard and all models also benefit from changes on the inside, with a new Dark Ash Grey interior colour scheme available as an option along with front side airbags mounted in the seats.
The updated Trailblazer also features a new, multi-information central LCD display panel which features the usual trip computer read-outs as well as two new menus for additional vehicle particulars.
The vehicle information display imparts critical information such as battery voltage, an adjustable speed warning, transmission fluid temperature, particularly important for off-road driving, engine hours and an oil life indicator.
The additional economy gauges include an instantaneous throttle position indicator which indicates when economical driving is being achieved, as well as a historical fuel economy graph which shows fuel consumption history for the last 50 kilometres.
The Chevrolet MyLink infotainment system is fitted as standard to all derivatives. it brings smartphone technology to the Trailblazer with a seven inch touch screen display and a host of media capabilities.
With four of the five Trailblazer derivatives featuring powerful turbo-charged diesel engines, the 2014 line-up now benefits from uprated outputs from both the 2.5-litre and 2.8-litre Duramax diesel motors.
The fuel economy from the updated engines also improves the 2.5D LT derivative returning an average fuel consumption figure of 8.0-litres per 100 km, the updated 2.8D LTZ models returning as low as 8.5-litres per 100 km.
GM could not be faulted for rolling out the 2014 Trailblazer onto African markets.
The Trailblazer sales performance in Zambia come as a surprise at first sight but not after one has driven it; it’s an invention par excellence.
Times of Zambia