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Mopar in South Africa

by David Zatz on
Since Fiat SpA aligned with Chrysler Group LLC, the companies have opened Mopar warehouses in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, the Middle East, and the United Arab Emirates. Today, both companies announced the opening of a new parts distribution center in Pretoria, South Africa.
The new 19,000 square meter facility in Pretoria will distribute over 50,000 parts (a count based on unique part numbers) to 80 delivery points in South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia.
Chrysler first arrived in South Africa with the importing of Maxwells in 1910. When Walter Chrysler took over Maxwell, the same distributors imported his cars; daredevil Gerry Bouwer broke several intercity speed records in Chrysler cars, taking a 1928 Chrysler 72 from Cape Town to Cairo in just 93 days (through the African bush). With his wife, he drove from London to Cape Town in the same car, in just 40 days — in the days before highways and, in many areas, before paved roads.
Chrysler’s original four cylinder models were imported to South Africa as fully built vehicles; and in 1941, an assembly plant was built in Cape Town by Bill Atkinson, Bert Oates, and Len Oates. Assembly was cut short in 1942 due to World War II, as the plant was converted to military transport, but was resumed in 1945. A second assembly plant was built in Durban in 1947.
In 1960, Chrysler Corporation took up 50% ownership of the Cape Town plant, and the company’s name was changed to Chrysler South Africa. The company sold Plymouths, Valiants, Dodges, Darts, DeSotos, Diplomats, and Rebels, along with Dodge, Fargo, and DeSoto trucks.  AMC was also in South Africa, though their sales were relatively small.
Valiant was the top selling car in South Africa from 1966 to 1968, but its all time high was just 15,026 cars (1,436 more than #2 Volkswagen 1500). In 1972, the company switched to the Australian type Valiants, saving the cost of re-engineering American cars to right hand drive, but they did not use the Australian Hemi Six due to local content rules. The oil crisis hit in 1973, and sales plummeted; Chrysler started selling Hillmans and Mitsubishis there, and in 1976 the corporation’s direct presence was replaced by a merger of the local outfit with Illings, creating a company named SIGMA. SIGMA kept Valiant and Dodge pickup production going until early 1980, also making Mitsubishis and Mazdas. SIGMA merged with Ford South Africa in 1985.
Chrysler South Africa (Pty) Ltd, a  subsidiary of Chrysler LLC in Midrand, was set up in recent times to sell Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge vehicles in South Africa. They currently sell a nearly full range along with Fiats and Alfa Romeos.

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