Five big car brands that kissed South Africa goodbye

 ·8 Jul 2024

Over the last decade, many top car brands have abandoned South Africa, including Datsun, Dodge, Chrysler, Chevrolet, and Daihatsu.

The South African economy and automotive industry can help explain why these prominent brands decided to withdraw from the country.

South Africa’s automotive industry is one of the country’s largest economic sectors, contributing 4.3% to the country’s gross domestic product.

Over the past few years, several global automotive manufacturers have expanded their operations in the country.

BMW announced that it will exclusively manufacture the next-generation BMW X3 at its Rosslyn plant in Pretoria.

Ford has invested R15.8 billion investment in its local manufacturing operations, while Nissan has invested R3 billion to build its new Navara bakkie at its plant in Pretoria.

Furthermore, Toyota invested R6.1 billion to expand the production of its Hilux and Fortuner models at its plant in Durban.

Not to be outdone, Volkswagen earmarked R4.5 billion for new models and infrastructure at its Uitenhage factory.

Beijing Automobile International Corporation also invested R11 billion in a vehicle manufacturing plant in the country.

As expected, four of these brands, Toyota, Volkswagen, Nissan, and Ford, sell most cars in South Africa.

The National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (Naamsa) May 2024 industry new vehicle sales report provided more details.

It showed that Toyota sold 8,795 cars in South Africa in May, followed by Volkswagen with 4,939, Suzuki with 4,101, and Ford with 2,860.

The most popular vehicle in South Africa is the Toyota Hilux, followed by the Ford Ranger and the Toyota Corolla Cross.

It is difficult for an international motoring brand to break into the South African market, as people have strong loyalty to locally manufactured car brands.

The country’s poor economic growth and challenging business environment further complicated matters for car brands.

It is, therefore, unsurprising that many international motoring brands could not make it work in South Africa.

The ones who made it work, like Suzuki, Hyundai, Chery, and GWM, typically focus on affordable alternatives to the established brands.

Car brands like Saab and Cadillac, which target middle-class and rich clients, could not compete with Toyota, BMW, and Ford in South Africa.

These two international car brands left South Africa in 2010, followed by many others over the last ten years.

Here is a look at prominent vehicle brands which have left the country since 2014.

Daihatsu – 2015

A Japanese brand, Daihatsu was known for producing reliable and affordable small-format cars for high-density urban environments.

This produced small hatches like the Charade and Sirion, and the Terios, in its time, was a popular model in the compact SUV market.

Daihatsu’s announcement that it would leave South Africa in 2015 came after similar news that the brand had left its other right-hand-drive markets in New Zealand and Australia.

Chevrolet – 2017

Chevrolet relaunched in South Africa in 1997 and remained in the country for 20 years before its parent company, GM, began phasing out of the local market.

GM sold its minority stake in Isuzu and handed over local operations, which purchased the company’s light commercial manufacturing plant outside Gqeberha.

Chevrolet said the lack of return on investment forced it to withdraw from South Africa and that it would re-prioritize its efforts to markets in the USA and China.

Dodge and Chrysler – 2017

Parent company Fiat Chrysler announced in 2017 that it would discontinue sales of two of its brands, Chrysler and Dodge, in South Africa.

This was attributed to the American manufacturers ceasing production of vehicles for right-hand-drive markets.

Sales continued for the brands until stock was depleted, and after-sale support continued at Fiat dealerships.

Datsun – 2022

Datsun re-entered South Africa in 2014, introducing its affordable Go hatchback car to the local market.

However, in 2022, the company announced that it would withdraw from South Africa and India.

Parent company Nissan had said that the move was part of a wider transformation strategy, and it was not explicitly confirmed that Datsun would be forever discontinued in the country.

Read: 13 cars that get hijacked the most in South Africa in 2024

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