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Auto shipments to foreign markets hit new high, but shift to electric vehicles sees drop in catalytic converter numbers

24th May 2024

By: Irma Venter

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

     

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Despite a tough domestic economy undermining a recovery in new- vehicle sales to prepandemic levels, record vehicle exports in 2023 ensured that the South African automotive sector still managed to outperform the rest of the manufacturing sector, says Naamsa | The Automotive Business Council chief trade and research officer Dr Norman Lamprecht.

The value of vehicles and automotive components exported from South Africa last year increased by R43.5-billion, or 19.1%, from the R227.3-billion recorded in 2022, to a record R270.8-billion – taking it to 14.7% of total South African exports.

Vehicle exports increased by 47 809 units to a record 399 594 units last year, up from the 351 785 units exported in 2022, while vehicle export value increased by R46.9-billion, from R157-billion in 2022, to a record R203.9-billion in 2023.

The automotive industry’s 2023 export performance included record exports to all major regions, including the EU, Africa, the Southern African Development Community and North America.

This success story flows from the pages of Naamsa’s newly launched yearly Automotive Trade Manual (ATM), formerly known as the Automotive Export Manual.

The ATM also shows, however, that automotive component exports from South Africa failed to match the performance of vehicle exports last year.

According to the manual, compiled by Lamprecht and his team, automotive component exports declined from R70.3-billion in 2022 to R66.9-billion last year, mainly owing to a reduction in catalytic converter exports to the EU.

Catalytic converters are used in internal combustion engine- (ICE-) powered vehicles to ensure cleaner vehicle emissions.

The EU and other developed economies around the world are increasingly moving to electric and hydrogen vehicles, which do not use catalytic converters.

Lamprecht notes that catalytic converters remained the top automotive component exported from South Africa last year, despite its decline, reaching R25.9-billion, or 44.1%, of total automotive component exports, followed by engine parts, tyres, and transmission shafts and cranks.

In 2022, catalytic converter exports totalled R34-billion.

Lamprecht says the transition to electric vehicles (EVs) is “definitely affecting” the demand for catalytic converters. However, he expects this product to remain South Africa’s top component export for the next ten years.

Total South African automotive trade amounted to R520.5-billion last year, comprising 16.7% of the country’s total trade GDP, up from 16.5% in 2022.

As the largest manufacturing sector in the economy, the broader automotive industry contributed 5.3% to GDP in 2023 (3.2% manufacturing and 2.1% retail).

In terms of regions, exports to the EU were again at number one, increasing to a record R147.1-billion last year, while exports to the rest of Africa, the second- largest export region, increased to a record R42.8-billion.

Germany remained South Africa’s premier automotive export destination, with a record export value of R83.1-billion in 2023.

Three of every four vehicles exported in 2023 were destined for Europe and the UK.

The top exporter from South Africa was Volkswagen Group Africa.

New-Energy Vehicles
New energy vehicle (NEV) sales in South Africa grew by 65.7% from 2022 to 2023.

Sales of battery electric vehicles increased to 929 units, up from 502 units in 2022.

The segment remained stymied, however, by the lack of more affordable models.

NEV sales – by 21 brands – as a percentage of total new- vehicle sales, finally breached the 1% mark last year, increasing to 1.45%, up from 0.88% in 2022.

India and China
Imports of light vehicles declined by 27 966 units, or 8.6%, from 323 783 units in 2022, to 295 817 units in 2023, in line with a weak domestic new-vehicle market.

The top country of origin, in volume terms for passenger cars and light commercial vehicles (LCVs) imported into South Africa last year, was India, with 157 326 vehicles, or 53.2% of total light vehicles imported.

China consolidated its second position as a country of origin, at 39 308 units, up from 35 052 last year, and 11 443 units in 2019.

Chinese brands continued to gain traction in South Africa as struggling consumers gravitate towards more affordable model options, says Lamprecht.

Just shy of 77% of passenger cars sold in the domestic market were imported in 2023.

South African vehicle production increased by 13.9%, from 555 885 units in 2022, to 633 332 units in 2023.

The country’s global vehicle production market share also increased from 0.65% in 2022 to 0.67% in 2023.

South Africa remained the dominant market on the African continent and accounted for 54.1% of the total African vehicle production of 1 171 422 vehicles in 2023.

In 2022, the country accounted for 54.4% of the total African vehicle production of 1 022 783 vehicles.

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

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