Johannesburg – When General Motors announced last Thursday that it planned to disinvest from South Africa it sent shockwaves through the industry and sparked fears that the country’s motor manufacturing industry is in a downward spiral.
Although SA’s motor industry does face its fair share of challenges, its manufacturing sector remains for the most part robust and export numbers are better than they’ve ever been.
South Africa’s car manufacturers exported a record 344 822 vehicles last year and Naamsa expects that number to be improved upon this year, by up to 10 percent if favourable conditions prevail.
Let’s face it, South Africa’s new vehicle market simply isn’t big enough to support a significant manufacturing effort. During apartheid years this was overcome, to some degree, by high import duties and strict local content requirements. Today’s government instead incentivises high-volume production through the Automotive Production and Development Programme (APDP), itself a development of the previous Motor Industry Development Programme (MIDP) of 1995, which helped get SA’s export ball rolling.
Lucrative export contracts, with big volumes achieving high economies of scale, have become the lifeblood of South Africa’s car manufacturers, but what cars are we actually building here? And what kind of numbers are we shifting?
To honour South Africa’s export heroes, we’ve compiled a list of our top exports for the year so far, combining the figures for the first four months of 2017. As you’ll see below, Mercedes-Benz leads the pack by a healthy margin, exporting around 8000 C-Classes a month to more than 80 countries, while Volkswagen’s Polo is another prolific export, averaging over 5000 units a month. Bakkies also feature prominently in the top 10.
SA's top vehicle exports (Jan - Apr):
1. Mercedes-Benz C-Class – 31 602 (7901 per month)
2. Volkswagen Polo – 20 617 (5154 pm)
3. Ford Ranger – 15 336 (3834 pm)
4. Toyota Hilux – 12 774 (3194 pm)
5. BMW 3 Series – 9844 (2461 pm)
6. Nissan NP300 Hardbody – 2314 (579 pm)
7. Isuzu KB – 1054 (263 pm)
8. Toyota Fortuner – 525 (131 pm)
9. Toyota Corolla and Corolla Quest - 328 (82 pm)
10. VW Polo Vivo – 128 (32 pm)
But what does the future hold?
Although nothing is certain in today’s economic and political climate, many of SA’s carmakers have already invested in future projects, meaning our industry should at least be safe in the medium term.
Volkswagen, for instance, recently invested R5.5 million in its local Uitenhage plant to build and export the next-generation Polo, due early next year. BMW has also committed to building its next X3 crossover for export at its Rosslyn plant, effectively replacing today’s 3-Series production.
Toyota’s Hilux programme is still fairly new, while Ford recently expanded its Silverton operation to build the Ranger-based Everest SUV.
And while General Motors has pulled the plug on its local operation, Isuzu Trucks has agreed to buy the local factory in Struandale, where it will continue building Isuzu bakkies and trucks, possibly even boosting production in line with its aims to expand its African footprint.