SP Metal Forgings Group (SP Forge) will see a significant bump in wheel hub exports to the US next year, says MD Ken Manners.
SP Forge has operations in Gauteng and the Eastern Cape.
The company currently manufactures front wheel hubs for a significant light commercial vehicle (LCV) platform in North America.
“We also supply a related component – a ‘target wheel’ that interacts with the vehicle’s antilock braking system and is fitted to each wheel hub assembly,” says Manners.
He says SP Forge does not supply the American vehicle manufacturer directly, but through a well-known bearing manufacturer whose North Carolina plant assembles the wheel hub and target wheel into a bearing system, and “they then supply a ‘wheel end’, with the wheel bolted onto our hub”.
The LCV platform recently added a well-publicised battery electric bakkie (EV) to the range, with independent rear suspension, specifying SP Forge’s wheel-end components on all four wheels.
This means the South African company is not only supplying parts to the internal combustion engine (ICE) model, but also the EV line.
“We ship more than 500 000 hubs and more than 500 000 target wheels to the US a year,” says Manners.
“A second, similar, hub for this platform will increase volumes by about 50% by the end of 2024, which means a rapid expansion in exports for us.
“Sales on this platform currently represent about 20% of our overall revenue.”
Manners imagines it is conceivable that this technology could migrate to a similar LCV produced by the same vehicle manufacturer in South Africa at some future time.
He explains that SP Forge has always manufactured wheel hubs.
“We have supplied many millions of similar components onto many vehicle platforms for more than 20 years.”
Manners says no special modifications were needed for the SP Forge product’s EV application.
In fact, he adds, “this was not a conscious strategic shift into EV-specific components, but more of a coincidental development. This highlights an important fact frequently overlooked in the hype around new vehicle technologies, namely that there will always be many common components and technologies shared between ICEs and EVs”.
Manners does not believe that the rise of EVs will signal the demise of ICEs yet.
“EVs will probably peak at 15% to 20% of global vehicle production in the next ten years, or until battery technology is substantially improved. In the meantime, we can expect that ICEs will also continue to improve.”
Manners says that many South African component suppliers are “already well positioned” to transition their components to EV platforms based on commonality, “in the same way we have done”.
“Tyres, wiring looms, seats, body panels, lights, trim, paint, glass, towing – all will be needed equally on EVs and ICEs.
“If there is a sustained and growing market for EVs, vehicle manufacturers in South Africa will inevitably build these vehicles.”
Manners also notes that the South African government’s existing automotive industry support structures are in place until 2035, and that they apply equally to all vehicle technologies.
He regards these policies as “a substantial offering to attract investment and local content in the automotive industry’s manufacturing space”. Source: Engineering News