Do electric cars have a future in South Africa’s motoring industry?

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Look at almost every major car manufacturers roadmap for the next few years, and most will place the rollout of electric cars (EVs) front and centre. EVs are beginning to look all the more attractive when you consider rising fuel costs, not to mention long-term savings that owning a car not dependent on gas guzzling liquids holds.

Why then have only an estimated 900 electric cars been sold in South Africa since the vehicles have been available to purchase in the country for the past five years?

At that rate the future for EVs in South Africa does not look all that promising.

It’s something that Kobus van Staden, account manager for the automotive industry at T-Systems South Africa, has also been pondering, as he recently explained his thoughts as to why EVs have not performed well locally, as well as what the future holds for motoring.

The hurdles

“Lack of infrastructure, and an unrefined policy around the technology, could be the reason for the slow adoption,” says van Staden.

“Electric vehicles form part of a complex ecosystem which includes infrastructure like charging stations, practical considerations such as charge time, and having the right policies in place to both drive uptake and ensure sustainability. Even things such as battery waste needs to be taken into account,” he adds.

Another contributing factor for slow uptake is a lack of charging points outside of one’s home. Yes some manufacturers like Jaguar have stated their intent to greatly increase the number of charging stations available in the country, but van Staden believes nationwide charging infrastructure could take at least 10 years to put in place.

Glimmers of hope

The T-Systems account manager says that the outlook isn’t all that bad though.

“The South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI), together with the Electric Vehicle Industry Association (EVIA) and the South African Smart Grid Initiative (SASGIA) are working on proposals and strategies to prioritise the development of public, private and commercial charging networks in South Africa,” he explains.

“Legislation and standards will help to drive uptake. Currently, there is little basis around which to build a charge station, as the charge points and vehicle charging times are not standardised and vary between manufacturers. Legislation around vehicle standards, emissions taxes and possible rebates for electric vehicle owners will definitely promote increased electric vehicle uptake as well as infrastructure provision,” enthuses van Staden.

While regulatory bodies are dragging their feet, but eventually getting onboard, van Staden says manufacturers can help by doing their part as well. Here he specifically points to manufacturers making electric cars look more appealing to drivers. The BMW i3 and i8 for example, he notes, allow drivers to calculate where their nearest charging point is based on how much juice is left to drive.

The future

Looking to the future, van Staden states his firm belief that electric cars will become a fixture on local roads. “There is no doubt the move to electric vehicles will change the South African motor industry in its entirety, despite the long-predicted timelines,” he points out.

Van Staden also says electric cars could be a stepping stone to something better.

“While we consider electric vehicles as the way forward, we may ask the question: are they the future, or a precursor to a more advanced type of vehicle?,” ponders the T-Systems man.

“There are many advancements being made in the likes of hydrogen and even nuclear fuelled vehicles, however there are still many questions around sustainability, safety and the impact on global markets that form the backbone of most countries. It will be interesting to see whether electric vehicles go the distance, or simply be the first of many iterations in alternatively fuelled cars,” he concludes.

Robin-Leigh Chetty

Robin-Leigh Chetty

When he's not reviewing the latest smartphones, Robin-Leigh is writing about everything tech-related from IoT and smart cities, to 5G and cloud computing. He's also a keen photographer and dabbles in console games.