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The most valuable car part in South Africa

Catalytic converters are the most valuable car parts in the domestic market as they are responsible for over 44% of the country’s automotive component exports.

A catalytic converter is a device used to control a vehicle’s emissions, as it converts harmful pollutants into less damaging substances before they exit the exhaust by means of chemical reactions.

In 2023, South Africa exported R29.49 billion worth of catalytic converters to over 23 countries outside its borders.

South Africa’s top automotive component exports

The automotive component export industry brought in a colossal R66.9 billion for South Africa’s fiscus in 2023; while a significant sum, this is 4.8% lower than in 2022 mainly due to a decline in catalytic converter exports, according to Naamsa’s latest automotive trade manual.

The table below shows the country’s top automotive component exports last year:

Component 2023 exports (R million) % of total export value
Catalytic converters R29.49 billion 44.1%
Engine parts R5.11 billion 7.6%
Tyres R3.83 billion 5.7%
Transmission shafts/cranks R1.68 billion 2.5%
Radiators/parts R1.29 billion 1.9%
Automotive tooling R1.08 billion 1.6%
Axles R1.02 billion 1.5%
Engines R973 million 1.5%
Gauges/instruments/parts R800 million 1.2%
Clutches/shaft couplings R685 million 1.0%
Filters R609 million 0.9%
Silencers/exhausts R603 million 0.9%
Body parts/panels R598 million 0.9%
Batteries R575 million 0.9%
Automotive glass R556 million 0.8%
Shock absorbers/suspension parts R438 million 0.7%
Gearboxes R361 million 0.5%
Brake parts R356 million 0.5%
Lighting equipment/parts R337 million 0.5%
Ignition/starting equipment R317 million 0.5%
Stitched leather seats/parts R229 million 0.4%
Road wheels/parts R225 million 0.3%
Gaskets R222 million 0.3%
Wiring harnesses R175 million 0.3%
Alarm systems R138 million 0.2%
Springs R134 million 0.2%
Steering wheels/columns/boxes R113 million 0.2%
Seats R64 million 0.1%
Airconditioners R56 million 0.1%
Jacks R40 million 0.1%
Car radios R39 million 0.1%
Seatbelts R13 million
Other parts R14.7 billion 22%

The downtick in catalytic converter sales is attributed to an increase in hybrid and electric-vehicle adoption around the globe as these autos require a different parts mix than traditional petrol and diesel cars.

However, the push for decarbonisation is expected to significantly drive the demand for platinum group metals (PGM) like platinum and iridium over the next three decades as they are vital materials in the production of hybrid and electric-car batteries.

While current export components may suffer as a result, the rising demand for PGMs creates a new potential revenue stream for the domestic economy.

“South Africa possesses the largest reserves in the world of most of these metals which could present future localisation opportunities, while developments in the automotive sector would also have a considerable positive impact on the mining sector via the demand for metals and minerals,” said Naamsa.

The main beneficiary of locally-made car components in 2023 was Germany, followed by the United States and the Czech Republic.

Despite many of South Africa’s top export destinations being first-world nations with significant production capacities, the country remains a significant global player as a result of continuous diversification, noted Naamsa.

The following table reveals the economies to which South Africa shipped most of its car components last year:

Country Value of car exports
Germany R15.72 billion
USA R7.83 billion
Czech Republic R7.13 billion
Namibia R2.91 billion
UK R2.38 billion
Botswana R2.36 billion
Thailand R2.19 billion
Democratic Republic of Congo R2.13 billion
Zambia R2.09 billion
Spain R2.06 billion
Zimbabwe R1.77 billion
Mozambique R1.62 billion
Brazil R1.53 billion
Belgium R1.47 billion
Netherlands R1.32 billion
Turkey R1.09 billion
Japan R1.03 billion
Argentina R867 million
eSwatini R831 million
Australia R598 million
Lesotho R554 million
Angola R526 million
South Korea R512 million

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