The SA motor industry’s trade deficit narrowed by more than 7% in 2018 as vehicle and components exports set new records.

The latest Automotive Export Manual, published on Friday, shows that the deficit — the value difference between imports and exports — shrank from R43.5bn in 2017 to R40.3bn in 2018.

Once again, had it not been for spare parts imported for the vehicle after-market, the industry would have had a surplus. Most of these parts are brought in by independent importers. Direct trade involving local motor companies and components manufacturers showed a R16.8bn surplus, an improvement of more than 50% from the previous year’s R10.3bn.

The manual, published by the Automotive Industry Export Council (AIEC), shows that the value of SA vehicle and component exports hit a record R178.8bn in 2018. Most of this, R127.5bn, came from the export of 351,139 cars and commercial vehicles — another record. The value of components exports grew by 2% to R51.3bn.

The total value of all automotive imports in 2018 was R219.1bn. Without after-market spare parts, the figure would have been R162bn.

The number of export destinations — 155 countries and territories — was another record. The UK was the biggest single market for SA-made vehicles but Germany provided the greatest value, buying R57.6bn of vehicles and components. This was overshadowed, however, by the R61.4bn of goods imported by SA from that country.

AIEC executive manager Norman Lamprecht said the motor industry comprised 14.3% of the value of all SA exports in 2018. Vehicle and component production accounted for 29.9% of manufacturing.

After Germany, the top markets by value for automotive exports were the UK, Belgium, Japan, the US and Spain. The main destinations for new vehicles by volume were the UK, Japan, Germany, France, Australia and the US.

Said Lamprecht, “The opportunities for further expansion are considerable. The road is paved with numerous opportunities for growth and development.”