How much South Africa’s car exports are worth – And where they go – TopAuto
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How much South Africa’s car exports are worth – And where they go

South Africa’s total vehicle exports in 2021 were worth R207.5 billion – an improvement of R31.8 billion over 2020 – with the biggest recipient of locally-made autos being the United Kingdom (U.K.).

This enormous sum accounts for 12.5% of South Africa’s total exports, or 4.3% of the gross domestic product (GDP).

These insights were uncovered in the Automotive Industry Export Council’s (AIEC) latest export manual, which provides an overview of South Africa’s main export trade blocks, major countries of origin, top export destinations, top automotive products, and top growth markets and products.

Vehicle exports

In 2021, vehicle exports in South Africa rose by 26,733 units (9.9%) to a total of 298,020 units, which were sent to 106 countries.

Passenger car exports accounted for 173,774 units, while light commercial vehicle exports – including bakkies and mini-buses – moved 123,667 units.

“Vehicle exports, the lifeblood of the domestic OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), are important to the viability of the South African automotive industry, as exporting remains imperative to generating sufficient economies of scale and to achieving improved international competitiveness,” said the AIEC.

“The only economically viable way to achieve positive economies of scale is for vehicle manufacturing plants to focus on longer production runs for a limited number of models, and then organise a global production and trade system that produces all their required models across several production centres linked to global demand patterns.”

Top export destinations

VW ranked as the top vehicle exporter in South Africa in 2021 by volume, followed by Ford, Toyota, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz.

These automakers benefited immensely from favourable trading conditions abroad and new model introductions by major exporters in 2021.

Top export destinations for local manufacturers were the Eurozone and United States (U.S.), but diversification into emerging markets remains a continuing trend and one of the main drivers behind competitiveness, said the AIEC.

The top export countries and number of units sent to these regions in 2021 are as follows:

  • U.K. – 60,260 units
  • Germany – 42,671 units
  • France – 22,130 units
  • Italy – 18,295 units
  • Japan – 15,765 units
  • Belgium – 11,752 units
  • Spain – 10,876 units
  • Australia – 9,676 units
  • Hungary – 7,793 units
  • Austria – 7,429 units
  • Other – 90,794 units

The accelerated move away from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles in the U.K. and Europe is expected to have a negative impact on the domestic industry, and South Africa must therefore transition to new-energy vehicle (NEV) production to maintain sufficient levels of revenue, said the AIEC.

The only way to do this is through a “supportive regulatory framework in the form of incentives to address the price differential between NEVs and ICE vehicles, additional incentives to manufacture NEVs and NEV components, as well as the roll out of public charging stations across the country.”

Domestic production

The OEMs with vehicle assembly operations in South Africa are BMW, Ford, Isuzu, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Toyota, and VW.

Passenger vehicles built locally by these brands include:

  • BMW X3
  • Ford Everest
  • Mercedes-Benz C-Class 4-Door
  • Toyota Corolla Cross, Corolla Quest, and Fortuner
  • VW Polo and Polo Vivo

Light commercial vehicles built locally by these brands include:

  • Ford Ranger
  • Isuzu D-Max
  • Nissan Navara, NP200, and NP300 Hardbody
  • Toyota Hiace and Hilux

Among these vehicles, the evergreen Polo was the most-exported model in 2021 for the third year running.

Domestic market

The new vehicle market in South Africa showed a strong recovery last year, increasing sales by 22.2% to a total of 464,493 units when compared to 2020.

As a result, the current vehicle ownership ratio in South Africa is in the order of 178 vehicles per 1,000 persons.

Trade-in values for quality used cars also surged over this time due to a shortage of used vehicle stock, and saw the used-to-new buying ratio of local consumers increase to an average of 2.3 used vehicles sold for every 1 new vehicle sold.

At the end of the year, South Africa had a total of 12.96-million registered vehicles on its roads, with the average age of passenger vehicles being 10 years and three months, and that of light commercial vehicles being 10 years and four months.

“The trading environment in South Africa is extremely competitive compared to global standards, and in 2021 there were no less than 43 passenger car brands and 3,077 model derivatives, the greatest selection of market-size ratio found globally,” said the AIEC.

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