Picture: Frank Augstein, AP

Johannesburg - BMW South Africa is to launch a pilot project to test the use of solar power technology for electric vehicle charging stations.

Tim Abbott, the managing director of BMW South Africa, said four pilot solar ports would be strategically located and established around the country by the end of this year, two in Gauteng and one each in Cape Town and Durban.

Read: BMW plans future around electric mobility

The pilot solar ports would probably be established with partners, such as a major bank or supermarket, he said on the sidelines of the BMW Group’s centenary celebrations in Munich in Germany this week.

Abbott said the exact location of the solar ports had not yet been established but BMW South Africa was committed to the project.

He said the company last year sold about 250 electric vehicles in South Africa, split equally between the BMW i3 and iX. “My firm belief is that solar power in South Africa is the way to go,” Abbott said.

“If you look at the sunshine (in South Africa), it’s got to be more than almost any other country in the world and an area we should be exploring.

“I’ve only been in South Africa for a short period but it is the one thing that has surprised me more than anything else except the taxes (on electric vehicles) all going the wrong way. Every house should have solar power on it.

“In the UK, there are more solar-powered houses than South Africa. But the UK has a subsidy for your own solar plant,” he said.

Abbott confirmed that the company had asked the government to look at the taxation of electric cars because at the moment they were taxed at 25 percent compared to 18 percent for a normally aspirated car.

He believed the tax treatment of electric cars was an oversight by the government that should be rectified by reducing the tax on electric vehicles at least down to other normally aspirated vehicles.

Abbott added that electric cars were currently taxed at the same level as a golf cart and milk float but believed the government should give the technology a kick-start and lower the tax to zero at least for the first year to enable manufacturers to make electric cars competitive and establish a foothold in the market.

He said most other countries in the world were party to such inducements, including the UK, the US and parts of the EU, but South Africa had nothing.

Abbott said BMW South Africa and Nissan South Africa had approached the government on this issue but were still waiting for a response.

“We will write again and keep writing because we believe the number of electric cars will accelerate because it’s very compelling to have an electric car.”

Abbott admitted that the capital outlay on an electric vehicle was more expensive than for a conventional vehicle but he believed some emerging markets would get on the electro-mobility bandwagon and look at incentives such as subsidies, specialised parking and allowing electric vehicles to use bus lanes.