What a difference twelve months makes? This time one year ago, we were exploring the ‘uncertain outlook’ for electric mobility in South Africa. Trying to remain positive but mostly spouting all the tropes about a lack of charging infrastructure, government taxation (a staggering 45% all told on EVs) and Eskom’s infamously unstable power supply. These raised more questions than they answered, positing the most important one of them all, despite the hype, when was the long-awaited paradigm shift to electric actually going to happen?
Fast forward to 2019 and like so many things in this world, there may only be a trickle of electrified vehicles at the moment, but the trickle is poised to burst into flood. This year I’ve personally driven two of latest clean-sheet EVs – Jaguar’s I-Pace and Audi’s e-tron – and I can tell you that despite one or two foibles, they do work, they do deliver 400 km+ range per charge in an entirely representative driving manner, and they are blazing a trail that doesn’t rely on the burning of long-dead dinosaur food. Knock them all you want, the one thing traditional carmakers are good at is ensuring technology filters down to every element of the business so a return on investment can be realised. This, in part, means improved battery capacity and electric motors will find their way into hybrid vehicles, too.
In the short term it is dual-energy vehicles that are poised to gain in popularity amidst this resurgence in eco-mobility. The fallout from #dieselgate continues unabated with Porsche and now Nissan, Toyota and Fiat Chrysler saying they’re phasing out diesel combustion from their ranges altogether. In their place, it’s estimated that 60 million electrified cars will have their skinny tyres on the roads by 2040. As a result, where once you only had Toyota/Lexus monopolising with the temerity of its mild-hybrid system (one that only harvests energy while braking and coasting), nowadays many major luxury manufacturers offer a plug-in hybrid-electric (PHEV) derivative: the Volvo XC90 Twin Engine, BMW’s 740e eDrive limousine and the e-hybrid Porsche Panamera and Cayenne. The latest to join the fray this year is Land Rover with the P400e Range Rover and Range Rover Sport. Both are big, cossetting, ultra-luxurious SUVs, however, their PHEV drivetrains can be topped up through a conventional wall socket, so they’ll deliver 51 km of pure EV mileage off a full battery before you even tap into your fuel reserves. I have some experience with this P400e drivetrain and the refinement and efficiency is second to none.
This begs the question why Toyota never sought to introduce PHEVs of its popular Prius in SA. In many ways this lost Toyota the initiative it had fought so hard to achieve and allowed the competition to leapfrog it in terms of hybrid efficacy. Instead, the Japanese carmaker has taken an unprecedented step in the war on climate change by releasing tens of thousands of patents royalty-free. ‘There’s a high volume of enquiries about our vehicle electrification systems from companies that recognise a need to popularise hybrid and electric technologies, we believe that now is the time for cooperation,’ says Shigeki Terashi, Toyota Motor Corporation Executive Vice President.
Toyota, like so many carmakers, sees the popularity of electrified vehicles only accelerating in the next ten years and it hopes to be a key player in helping meet the challenge of climate change. Along with the patents, Toyota will provide technical support to manufacturers that purchase its electrification components such as motors, batteries and control units, for a fee of course. Putting aside the piousness of combating climate change for just a moment, there’s no denying that manufacturers see a massive pot of gold at the end of this seemingly ever-arcing eco rainbow – one that’s grown exponentially over the last decade (the world’s electrified carpark sat at 3.5 million in 2018) – while also acknowledging they face the risk of being left behind if they don’t take up the EV battle. If current estimates prove accurate, 20 new brands and more than 100 new EVs will be on the road by 2022. ‘Simply put, almost all new cars from Europe and Japan will have a heavy EV reliance built into them, and while we are lagging behind, if we take action now, South Africa can mature into an EV-ready market in the next five years,’ says Brian Hastie, Electrification Team Leader for Jaguar Land Rover SA.
This is a sentiment shared by SA power utilities, Eskom, which this year met with major EV players to unlock the potential zero-emissions mobility locally. Being the countries primary electricity supplier, it identified an objective to craft special tariffs for EV owners to charge their vehicles at home during off-peak times, helping to flatten demand patterns outside of peak periods and ensure affordable and reliable power. It added that it’s well advanced in research on photovoltaic and battery storage options for the future and acknowledged that while it is true that South Africa has major income streams related to fossil fuels, electric vehicles will be the transport medium of the future and SA needs to be part of the movement or risk massive losses if it’s not geared up for it.
Positive talk it may be but it still doesn’t excuse the fact that, up to this point, there’s been precious little government support for electric vehicles in SA. In regions where sustainable mobility has thrived, there’s been an effective combination of three factors: innovative partnership, forward-thinking legislation and, most crucially, customer demand. Could it be that the success of SA’s EV strategy hinges on an affordable electric family car? Volkswagen, the number one seller of passenger cars locally, will soon offer an e-Golf in Europe that costs the same, goes as far and as fast as a regular TSI Golf – the exact vehicle to reassure the EV sceptics. However, according to Volkswagen Marketing and Communications Manager, Meredith Kelly, ‘There’s no market for e-Golf in South Africa at the moment.’
Despite this blinkered view, all the major carmakers are taking to the zero-emissions game; less so with a sense of reluctant obligation, more so with genuine passion. They understand that forming strategic partnerships and refining their own electric mastery now, will future-proof their business for decades to come. Investing in advanced engineering is one thing, but finding forward-thinking leadership to implement a convincing EV switch is where the responsibility now lies. One thing’s for certain, over the past twelve months, the mobility landscape has certainly changed – the once-calm waters of electric mobility are no longer.
Going electric means never having to visit a petrol forecourt again
How’s that going to work then? Well, ideally you should top-up your EV overnight at the most affordable tariff. When you do require a public charging point, you’ll be able to monitor the charge and range status via a smartphone app even when you’re not in the car. Apps like BMW’s i ConnectedDrive even offer a navigation service that recommends the most efficient route past the brand’s 57 ChargeNow stations (five DC fast chargers at BMW dealerships allow for charging from 0 to 80% in just 45 minutes). All are equipped with generators or solar panels to provide power in the event of a loss of electricity supply, aka, load shedding.
How much will I save by going electric?
For its new I-Pace, Jaguar envisions mostly home charging, like you would your cellphone overnight while you’re asleep. Home charger installation costs R30 000 and the firm claims it’ll cost you on average R2 per kWh (electricity tariffs fluctuate throughout the day). If you’re averaging 100 km per day (3 000 km per month) this works out to roughly two-thirds off the running cost of an equivalent internal-combustion vehicle – approximately R4 700 in fuel versus R1 800 in electricity. The speed and convenience of public DC charging will come at a premium – R60 per 100 km for public charging vs R40 per 100 km for home charging (and R120 per 100 km for an internal-combustion vehicle). Jaguar is well on the way to completing its R30-million ‘Jaguar Powerway,’ the pioneering initiative is comprised of 52 charging stations along the N1, N2 and N3, making it possible to travel long distances with zero range anxiety.