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From 'Whoosh-Bonk' to Formula One Systems and Specialists

Howden Ganley & Greg Mills discuss a modern recipe for high-tech engineering success.
Published 5 November 2020

South Africans have excelled at the top echelons of automotive engineering, the world of Formula One, Le Mans sportscars, NASCAR and other divisions of motorsport. This exceptional design and engineering record reflects the solid base of car production in South Africa (today a 300,000-unit, $3 billion industry annually), and the long history of competitive motorsport in the Republic.

Motorsport has become a global industry. In the United Kingdom, alone, the engineering side of Formula One turns over more than $6 billion, of which $4.3 billion is in exports, involving 4,500 mostly Small- and Medium-Size Enterprises and 38,500 jobs. The industry has been hailed by the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee as a “crown jewel of UK manufacturing”. Can contemporary South Africa, like other countries across the continent, today compete with other nations in building such a high-tech engineering sector, offering relatively high-wage employment for South Africans, thereby leapfrogging stages of industrial development?


Employing motorsport as a case-study, and drawing on interviews with key individuals involved in this sector since the 1960s, this Discussion Paper argues that the world of automotive high-tech has changed considerably over the past five decades. No longer is it possible for a highly-innovative individual or entrepreneur alone to succeed.


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