There are currently 16 distinct car models being made by nine major vehicle manufacturers in South Africa.
Following slumps in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the local manufacturing industry bounced back and rolled out over half a million new vehicles last year.
According to the National Association for Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (Naamsa), vehicle manufacturing contributed 2.4% of South Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2021 and supported over 110,000 jobs.
Many of the cars made in South Africa are top sellers locally — including the Ford Ranger, Toyota Hilux, and Volkswagen Polo — further supporting the 1.9% GDP contributed through retail vehicle sales.
While the first amateur-built and imported cars landed on South Africa’s roads in the 1800s, professionally manufactured, locally-made automobiles appeared soon thereafter.
Ford was the first company to open a vehicle assembly plant in South Africa.
Its original local plant was opened in Port Elizabeth (now Gqeberha) in 1924, almost a century ago. It manufactured one of the world’s most famous early mass-produced cars — the Ford Model T.
Two years later, General Motors opened its first plant in the country — starting with the Chevrolet Series AA. It was followed by a Chrysler factory at Paarden Island near Cape Town in 1941.
Another noteworthy early entry to the market was Volkswagen (VW), which first had its highly-popular Beetle manufactured at the South Africa Motor Assemblers and Distributors (Samad) plant in Uitenhage (now Kariega) in 1951.
Samad would later be renamed Volkswagen of South Africa before being wholly bought out by the Volkswagen Group.
South Africa’s first-ever production car — the two-seater Protea sports motor — was introduced in 1957.
Sources conflict about exactly how many were made, but agree it was very few. Only 14 or 26 units of this vehicle rolled off the production line.
The country has had much greater success assembling globally appealing vehicles from well-established brands.
Although General Motors and Chrysler no longer operate local plants, other heavyweights that set up locally after Ford and VW were:
- Mercedes-Benz — 1958
- Toyota — 1962/1963
- Nissan — 1966
- BMW — 1973
- Isuzu — 2002 (initially by General Motors)
- Hyundai — 2014
- Mahindra — 2018
Of the 555,889 cars made in South Africa, 351,785 were exported for sale elsewhere.
But South Africa’s vehicle manufacturing industry is facing an imminent threat due to a switchover from internal combustion vehicles to new-energy vehicles (NEV) in the largest export markets.
Toyota and Mercedes Benz are currently the only companies that makesNEV models in South Africa.
Toyota manufactures the Corolla Cross and Mercedes-Benz makes export-dedicated plug-in hybrid versions of the C-class.
However, Europe is set to drop all types of petrol or diesel engines in the next decade, so manufacturers will have to become capable of making fully-electric cars.
Among the locally-represented manufacturers, BMW is the only company expressing interest in making electric models in the country.
The company, which operates a plant in Rosslyn, Pretoria, recently told Sunday Times it was in talks with the South African government regarding an electric vehicle (EV) policy.
Minister of Trade, Industry, and Competition, Ebrahim Patel, recently said the government would finalise this policy before the end of 2023.
It is expected to provide a road map for supporting local EV production and the possible relaxation or scrapping of taxes on EV imports.
Below are all 16 cars currently being mass-produced in South Africa and the plants where they are being made.
BMW X3 — Rosslyn, Pretoria
Ford Ranger — Silverton, Pretoria
Hyundai EX8 — Benoni, East Rand
Isuzu D-Max — Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth)
Mahindra Pik-Up — Dube Tradeport, Durban
Mercedes-Benz C-class — East London
Nissan NP200 — Rosslyn, Pretoria
Nissan Navara — Rosslyn, Pretoria
Toyota Corolla Quest— Prospecton, Durban