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Out of the top 10-selling vehicles in SA last year, eight were made in SA, with the Toyota Hilux once again top of the pops. Picture: SUPPLIED
Out of the top 10-selling vehicles in SA last year, eight were made in SA, with the Toyota Hilux once again top of the pops. Picture: SUPPLIED

What do Germany, Gibraltar, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Gabon and Greece have in common, besides their first letter? There’s a decent chance that if you visit any of these countries, you’ll find yourself travelling in an SA-made car.

They and their fellow G spots Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Georgia, Gambia and Grenada were among 152 countries and territories to which the SA motor industry exported in 2021. In 2020, there were 148 destinations.

The industry shipped out vehicles and components worth a record R207.5bn. That was 18.1% better than the R175.7bn of 2020 — hardly surprising because world markets were starting to recover from that year’s Covid peak. Equally unsurprisingly, imports also grew as the SA market began its own recovery.

Imports actually grew faster, by 32%, from R127.5bn to R168.4bn. As a result, the industry’s annual trade surplus fell to R39.1bn from 2020’s record R48.2bn.

These import figures include only assembly-line components. Throw in aftermarket spare parts and it’s a very different story: another R63.4bn of imports and an overall R24.3bn trade deficit. However, since these spare parts are brought in by independent importers, they are generally omitted from trade calculations.

The numbers are all from the “2022 Export Manual”, published last week by the Automotive Industry Export Council. One of the things I like best about this annual publication is that no detail is too small for inclusion. So we learn that Germany was SA’s biggest export destination, with R66.5bn of products, Gibraltar took R309m, Guadeloupe R99.9m, Guyana R2.9m and Grenada R2.5m.

SA’s 152nd and smallest customer last year was Ukraine, with barely R1m of exports. Russia, which our government won’t criticise over its invasion of its neighbour, was worth R48m.

Germany wasn’t just the largest automotive repository for SA, it was also our biggest trading partner. In return for our R66.5bn of goods, it sold us R51.6bn, giving SA a trade surplus of almost R15bn.

By comparison, every other trade partner paled into near-insignificance. Business with our second-biggest partner, the US, was worth a combined R34.3bn — R18.9bn out and R15.4bn in, for another surplus. After that, Thailand, China, Japan and India all got the better of trade with SA last year before the UK, Belgium, Spain and the Czech Republic righted the books in SA’s favour.

Of 298,020 vehicles exported last year, 60,260 went to the UK and 42,671 to Germany. They were followed by France, Italy, Japan, Belgium and Spain. This highlights one of the biggest challenges faced by the SA motor industry in the next 15 years. Nearly all these countries plan to ban vehicles using internal combustion engines (ICE) and replace them with electric vehicles (EVs).

Vehicles built in SA — of which over 60% are exported — are almost exclusively ICE. If they don’t want to give up many of their exports, the clock is ticking for SA motor companies to include more EVs in their production mix.

Germany was our biggest trading partner. In return for our R66.5bn of goods, it sold us R51.6bn, giving SA a trade surplus of almost R15bn

A feature of the SA motor industry — one created deliberately by automotive policy — is that SA exports most of the vehicles it builds and imports most of those it sells to domestic customers. The big import beneficiary in recent years has been India, which has become a popular global manufacturing base for entry-level cars. The 262,281 cars and bakkies imported into SA last year accounted for 60% of sales in those categories. India alone was responsible for 129,364, or 49.3% of the total.

The next biggest contributor was Japan, with 24,152, followed by China 21,517, Germany 19,801 and South Korea 17,478.

The good news was that out of the top 10-selling vehicles in SA last year, eight were made in SA, with the Toyota Hilux once again top of the pops. According to the “Export Manual”, it was followed by the Volkswagen Polo Vivo, Ford Ranger, VW Polo, Isuzu D-Max, Toyota Hi-Ace, Toyota Starlet, Nissan NP200, Toyota Fortuner and Toyota Urban Cruiser. The only interlopers were the Starlet and Urban Cruiser.

The top-selling company across all passenger and commercial vehicle categories was Toyota SA Motors, which includes the Lexus luxury car and Hino truck brands. Second was VWSA, including Audi. The top 10 were Toyota (25.3%), VW (15.4%), Hyundai (7.7%), Ford (6.7%), Nissan (6.4%), Suzuki (5.9%), Renault (4.5%), Kia and Isuzu (4.3% each) and Haval (4.1%).

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