INTERVIEW: Stellantis SA CEO Mike Whitfield on the group’s future as a local manufacturer

The Peugeot Landtrek bakkie will be built in SA for Africa. Picture: Supplied.

The Peugeot Landtrek bakkie will be built in SA for Africa. Picture: Supplied.

Published May 27, 2024


Stellantis has been on a mission to make their name heard as loud as possible and if it has anything to do with South African managing director Mike Whitfield, the time is now.

Not everyone is aware of the holding company but as a reminder they are the world’s fourth largest manufacturer by volume and the parent company to a host of iconic brands.

Alfa Romeo, Citroen, Fiat (Abarth), Jeep, Opel and Peugeot are all under their wing in South Africa and globally they also include Chrysler, Dodge, DS, Lancia, Maserati, Ram and Vauxhall.

Stellantis also recently announced a R3 billion investment into a new plant in the Coega Special Economic Zone in the Eastern Cape with the first soil set to be turned in a few weeks time, and the start of assembly scheduled for 2026.

The company will be building the full range of Landtrek Peugeot bakkies for local consumption and export into Africa and the Middle East.

They have already started the process of hiring for key positions and according to Whitfield more than 1 000 new jobs are to be created at the plant.

Mike Whitfield, MD of Stellantis South Africa. Picture: Supplied.

“We’re very much focused on growing in Africa and ultimately we want 70% of what we sell in Africa to come out of Africa,” Whitfield said.

Pessimists have asked why the group is investing in a country that seems to have an uncertain future given the economic, political and social instability.

“There are two fundamental reasons,” he pointed out.

“It (SA) is still by a long way the biggest market in Africa and it has a good and stable auto policy. And the last real frontier left in the auto industry is Africa. If you’re going to be in Africa, you have to be in South Africa.

“People are sceptical about the African Continental Free Trade Area, but I’m convinced it will happen.”

Citroen to focus on lower-end products

Whitfield said 60% of sales in SA are below the R400 000 mark and most of those vehicles come out of India, with China performing well in the R400 000 to R800 000 range.

“So for us the focus has to be affordable mobility and our brand going forwards in that space will be Citroen. But the real drive for us is also to build Stellantis as a brand and customer trust.”

Whitfield agrees that there is a perception in the market that spare parts for Stellantis products is an issue. We’ve consolidated the parts warehouse into one space in Roslyn. We’re also about to announce that if we can’t supply you with a part within 48 hours if the vehicle is under warranty, we’ll give you a vehicle to use.”

The company is also in the process of consolidating the different brands into a single dealership under one roof.

“It will be like a Stellantis brand house with the five volume brands in one stable with Alfa Romeo being selective because it’s a specialised performance brand. We’ll probably end with between 37 and 40 dealers around the country.

“It’s a fine balancing act because we don’t want to sell them against each other at the same price in the same segment,” he said.

With local elections around the corner Whitfield says they’re not overly concerned about the results.

“The SA auto industry is very stable. We operate in 54 different countries and everyone is different. We make long-term decisions and we need to be adaptable to what’s happening. And obviously you have to factor that in but it’s not like we’re going to be disinvesting,” Whitfield said.