A car rental worker inspects the vehicle fleet.

Have South African Car Rental Fleets Recovered Since Covid-19?

At the end of 2021, Drive South Africa conducted a South African car rental fleet survey and found that the total industry fleet size was half that of pre-pandemic levels. More than two years later, we have reassessed the industry and its recovery.

According to the Southern African Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (SAVRALA), the total South African rental fleet size reached 64,200 vehicles in November 2023. This represents a 14.2% increase year-on-year. Crucially, it represents a near-total recovery to pre-pandemic levels.

We reached out to several car rental companies in South Africa for updated figures. Read on to get a better overview of where the South African car rental fleet stands in 2024.

Looking back on our South Africa Car Rental Fleet Survey 2021

A car rental agent hands over car keys to a customer.

Three years ago, we set out to assess how Covid-19 and the associated lockdowns affected the car rental industry in South Africa. Specifically, we wanted to see if there were any dramatic changes in fleet sizes among 13 companies.

We published our South Africa Car Rental Fleet Survey 2021 and established that the total industry fleet size plummeted to half that of pre-pandemic levels. Our 4×4 rental and motorhome rental partners experienced even more severe drops.

South Africa Car Rental Fleet Survey 2021 findings:

A graph showing car rental fleet changes over time.

  • The car rental sector fleet size fell by 45.8% from December 2019 (~59,000 vehicles) to December 2021 (~32,000 vehicles)
    • The expected fleet size recovery for December 2022 was 76.27% of pre-pandemic levels
  • The 4×4 rental sector fleet size fell by 70% from December 2019 (~1,290 vehicles) to December 2021 (~387 vehicles)
    • The expected fleet size recovery for December 2022 was 51.94% of pre-pandemic levels
  • The motorhome rental sector fleet size fell by 65.5% from December 2019 (~507 vehicles) to December 2021 (~175 vehicles)
    • The expected fleet size recovery for December 2022 was 48.32% of pre-pandemic levels
  • The total vehicle rental industry fleet size shrunk by almost half (46.4%) from pre-pandemic figures
    • The expected total vehicle rental industry fleet size recovery for December 2022 was 75% of pre-pandemic levels

The expected figures mentioned above were purely predictive. Now, backed by real data, vehicle rental companies have formulated new expected figures for December 2024.

How Has the Industry Recovered Since Then?

A woman adjusts her rearview mirror.

According to SAVRALA, the rental fleet size across South Africa reached 64 200 units in November 2023. This represented a recovery to 95.8% of pre-pandemic levels as measured by the association. Furthermore: 

  • Average fleet utilisation recovered to 69.1% in November 2023 compared to just 51.8% in 2020
  • Total revenue for January to November 2023 was R6,983,929,310 compared to R3,025,394,468 for the same period in 2020

Speaking to Tourism Update, SAVRALA also shared that unlike elsewhere in the world, car rental rates in South Africa have increased following the Covid-19 pandemic. However, our rates were relatively low to start with.

“The industry had to increase rates above inflation purely to survive,” SAVRALA GM Sandile Ntseoane told the publication in March 2024. “For the last 10 years our rate increases year on year were behind inflation, so this was a much-needed correction.”

Does this mean that booking behaviour has changed? According to SAVRALA, car rental revenue per day for inbound tourism increased from around R325 in January 2021 to around R575 in January 2024. This is still just two-thirds of the average weekly price in the European market and suggests that international visitors are capitalising on South Africa’s relatively low rates. This is reflected in SAVRALA’s statistics:

“Rental transactions for the first eleven months of 2023 were 1,857,600 dealings, 15.8% above what was recorded for January to November [2022],” SAVRALA says. “Reported revenue for the first eleven months of this year was up 21.5% on the same eleven months in 2022.”

The business landscape has changed, too. For example, SA Roadtrippers sadly didn’t survive the economic downturn. Springs Car Wholesalers, the long-time local Thrifty Car Rental franchisee, acquired SANI Car Rental in 2023, with both companies now operating under the SANI banner.

Also in 2023, Avis and Budget operator Zeda reported 26% revenue growth in its car rental business. 

We’re Well On Our Way to Recovery in 2024

Two women sit on the roof of a car at sunset.

This year, we’re excited to present new figures thanks to data provided by several companies:

  • Avis (Car)
  • Hertz (Car)
  • Britz (4×4)
  • Bushlore (4×4)
  • Bobo Campers (Motorhome)
  • Maui Motorhomes (Motorhome)

We asked these companies to provide their estimated fleet sizes for December 2024. This way, we have a more accurate idea of how the South African vehicle rental industry continues to recover beyond the Covid-19 pandemic. Here’s the bottom line:

  • The expected car rental fleet size recovery for December 2024 is 100% of pre-pandemic levels (Avis, Hertz)
  • The expected 4×4 rental fleet size recovery for December 2024 is 51.56% of pre-pandemic levels (Britz 4×4 Rental; Bushlore)
  • The expected motorhome rental fleet size recovery for December 2024 is 66.28% of pre-pandemic levels (Bobo Campers, Maui Motorhomes)

Why are the 4×4 and Motorhome Fleets Taking Longer to Recover?

Ellena van Tonder, Sales and Product Manager at Drive South Africa, explains that some of the 4×4 and motorhome vehicle rental suppliers are privately-owned. As a result, they have experienced slower recovery. Furthermore, Toyota supplies most of the vehicles for the 4×4 rental market, and there is still a significant backlog of vehicle orders following the disastrous flooding of its Durban manufacturing plant.

“Suppliers must time the manufacturing of the camping unit or fitment of the vehicle with the delivery of the vehicle by outsourced companies,” Ellena explains. “This is difficult if you don’t know when your vehicles are arriving, adding to the nightmare.”

A man turns the steering wheel.

Since collapsing to half its size in 2020, the South African rental vehicle industry has made significant progress towards full recovery to pre-pandemic levels. However, the 4×4 rental and motorhome rental sectors are still playing catch-up. 

Drive South Africa will reassess these findings in 2025. In the meantime, we will keep a close eye on industry changes and any new challenges that may arise.

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