Nine brands that build cars in South Africa
The breadth of the South African automotive industry is nothing to be scoffed at. And as the sector seeks to regain the levels of activity seen before the grip of a serious pandemic, this list should inspire confidence.
Join us as we take stock of the car makers with manufacturing and assembly operations in our country.
A substantial investment and heady public relations hype in 2015 indicated that the venture by Chinese firm Beijing Automotive International Corporation (BAIC) would have great potential. Its first offering raised eyebrows – the D20 hatchback (above) looked like a facsimile of a first-generation Mercedes-Benz B-Class. The brand was supposed to begin producing cars at its Port Elizabeth facility last year. We cannot confirm whether there is activity at the plant at this stage. An underwhelming way to start this listicle, but we are moving in alphabetic order.
Our nation has a very special relationship with the Bavarian marque. And much of this fabled history pivots around the establishment of its operations in Rosslyn, Tshwane. Opening shop in 1973, it was the first BMW plant established outside Germany. The facility was responsible for the 5-Series (E12); five generations of the famed 3-Series and now the X3. Of course, we cannot forget the many special edition versions that emerged from its skunkworks, specifically for our market, such as the 530 MLE, 733i, 333i and 325iS. And did you know, they also cobbled together a handful of 8-Series (E31) examples too?
The Blue Oval company has two major factories in SA. First up is its engine plant in Struandale, Port Elizabeth, first opened in 1964. According to the brand, it has an annual capacity of 250,000 machined component kits, including engine heads, blocks and crankshafts. And then it has the Silverton assembly operation, established in 1967 and presently home to one of the most iconic nameplates in the market: that of the Ranger pickup.
In 2014 the South Korean automaker set up an assembly plant in the East Rand of Gauteng. The Benoni facility assembles the EX8 in the Hyundai commercial vehicles portfolio. This is mostly for local consumption, while a small portion (20%) is exported to neighbouring countries such as Namibia and Botswana. The company invested R110m in establishing the venture.
The facility that now headquarters the Isuzu brand used to form part of the General Motors (GM) conglomerate when it did business in SA. After withdrawing from the market in 2017, this Struandale, Port Elizabeth plant was sold to Isuzu – though manufacturing of the D-Max pickup was part of its functions for decades even before this, since Isuzu was once part of the GM stable. The plant also birthed the Opel Corsa Utility, which became the Chevrolet Utility. In addition to the D-Max, the Isuzu facility now assembles various heavy-duty truck models.
Yes, the Indian brand does more for South Africa than Karoo versions of its hardy Pik-Up. In 2018 it inaugurated an assembly facility in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal. It is tasked with putting together the Pik-Up series, in both single- and double-cab guises. It has an annual maximum capacity of 4,000 vehicles. At the establishment of this facility, the company said it was planning to source up to 40% of components locally.
In 1958, a company named Car Distributors Assembly (CDA) had received its first order from Daimler-Benz AG to assemble Mercedes-Benz passenger cars. And since then, models bearing the three-pointed star have never stopped rolling off the production line in East London. By 1984 Daimler-Benz had taken more than 50.1% of CDA and in 1998, it had full control of operations when Mercedes-Benz South Africa was officially formed, as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the parent company. In 2015 the facility celebrated its millionth model. It all started with the round-eyed W121. The timeline also included the W114, legendary W123 and even the S-Class in W126 generation – of which a special red example was made by employees for our beloved Nelson Mandela. The plant now manufactures C-Class models for local consumption and export.
Nissan currently builds the NP200 and NP300 at its Rosslyn, Tshwane plant. Plans are afoot to commence production of the Navara from 2021 – a move that has been delayed on a few occasions. This facility traces its history as far back as 1964. Thanks to various corporate formations and agreements over the decades, the production line at the plant saw assembly of vehicles from other brands too. This includes Peugeot, Rambler (defunct), as well as Fiat and Alfa Romeo. More recently, the first-generation Renault Sandero was assembled here.
The Japanese giant established manufacturing operations at its Prospecton, KwaZulu-Natal plant in 1972. This facility is now responsible for the Hilux, Fortuner, Corolla Quest and Hiace. It plans to take a step towards the future of electrification by manufacturing a new hybrid model, details of which are yet to be confirmed. Hino trucks are also manufactured at Prospecton.
In 2016 Volkswagen celebrated its 65th year of manufacturing vehicles in SA. Commemorating the milestone, it said more than 6.5m vehicles had rolled off the production line at its Uitenhage, Port Elizabeth factory in the six-and-a-half decades of existence. Currently, it produces the Polo and Polo Vivo here, two vehicles that require no introduction, given their status as best-sellers.
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