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South Africans lead world in car joy

A new study by Ford across 16 countries shows remarkable responses from South Africans, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Amid a sense of being overwhelmed by doom and gloom, cars bring joy to South Africans, more than anywhere else in the world.

This finding of the global Ford Trends 2023 survey, based on 16,120 interviews across 16 countries, highlights the country’s love affair with its cars. It also aligns with the findings of last year’s Statista Global Consumer Survey, which showed that while cars’ status as an aspirational purchase had diminished in many countries, a majority of non-owners in Brazil, South Africa and Nigeria still aspire to buy a car.

The Ford study examines consumer attitudes across a wide range of issues, from global instability to personal finances. It found that, after three years of a global pandemic, 58% percent of adults are currently experiencing feelings of burnout in life overall. In South Africa, that figure leaps to 77%, ranking this country fourth in the world in agreeing with the statement, “I am overwhelmed by all the changes I see taking place in the world”. Only Brazil, Germany and Spain recorded a higher proportion.

The study found that most people globally believe the worst is yet to come, and consumers are taking stock of their fears. However, the majority of people believe society will be stronger in five years.

Jennifer Brace, “trends and futuring” manager at Ford, where she leads discussions on long-term thinking, planning and strategic development, told Business Times that her team looks outside the automotive sector to understand how consumer sentiment, values and behaviours might affect their business.

“We strive to uncover those connection points and try to connect those dots internally at the company to prepare teams for what it might mean in the future. We’re seeing brands that maybe in the past would have tried to stay neutral on politics and they’re no longer able to do that. Consumers are expecting them to take a stance on whether it be humanitarian issues, social issues, government, environmental issues. Consumers are looking to support brands that can connect with them and with their values.”

Here, South Africa ranked number one in the world, with 77% of respondents saying they expect brands to take a stand on social issues. The United States ranked lowest, at 51%.

“South Africa was above the global average on a lot of different questions,” said Brace. “Something that we found across the survey was there’s a lot of things that we all recognise are out of our control, but people are looking to the things that they can control. And there is some kind of power in feeling I can’t control what’s happening in the world but I can decide where I spend my money.

“What I also noticed about South Africa was that you’re on the more optimistic side of technology. In areas like the metaverse and Web 3.0, you’re looking to technologies for solutions. You were in the top two in terms of expecting that everything you do will be tracked by technology, but there is this recognition that the technology in our lives is a double edged sword where we rely on it. South Africa also over-indexed the global average when it came to using technology and social media to stay connected.”

However, she pointed out that there was a recognition that social media in particular is toxic, and it could be dangerous.

“We know that we find it creepy and we know that we’re being monitored, but we can’t stop. It’s so ingrained in our lives that we don’t want to get rid of it.”

The study was specifically designed to uncover both those aspects of existence that overwhelmed consumers and those that helped them cope with such feelings. In particular, it found that people are “redefining joy and finding it in everyday life”. Rather than aiming for exceptional wealth, for example, most simply wanted to earn enough to enjoy the things they like. Here, South Africa stood out.

“When we asked about specific elements in terms of finding joy, South Africans put music first:  your top avenue for finding joy was listening to music. The younger generations chose music above driving. But South Africans as a whole chose driving their cars.

“That one makes me smile because my car is a chance to listen to music. That’s the type of thing that we would take back to our engineering teams and talk about our younger audiences choosing music above driving as a source of joy. We need to focus on whether we need to keep making incremental updates to performance, or do we need to look at some of what’s happening in the cabin? If we only have so much money to spend, it might shift the way that we choose to allocate it.”

South Africans would relate strongly to their views having an impact on global vehicle design. A question on whether they believe their actions can influence positive change saw this country ranked third in the world at 81%, only marginally behind Mexico and Brazil. Advanced nations like Germany and the United Kingdom scored below 60% on the question.

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