FILE PHOTO: A 2018 Tesla Model 3 electric vehicle is shown in Cardiff, California,
JOHANNESBURG - The new automotive development policy that will replace the current Automotive Production and Development Programme (APDP) from 2020 currently does not make any specific provision for electric vehicles (EVs).

Mike Whitfield, the managing director of Nissan South Africa, confirmed this on Friday, but added that it contained comments about the need to recognise and accommodate new technologies.

“It’s the intention (to make specific provision for EVs) but it’s not on the table at the moment. But the current post-APDP discussions are not on its own going to deliver all the pillars of the master plan. It's just a foundation.

“There is a journey to create all the pillars. The dilemma is: Do you build an engine plant now or a (EV) battery plant,” he said.

EVs are believed to have created a dilemma for the government, because of the fuel levy tax revenue it would lose from higher EV sales.

Whitfield confirmed that Nissan planned to launch the new Leaf full electric vehicle in South Africa next year.

Roel de Vries, the corporate vice president, global head of marketing and brand at the Nissan Motor Company, highlighted the major role regulators had in creating a market for EVs by regulating and stimulating this market.

De Vries said automotive companies were forced to invest in technology, because of regulation in Europe and the US forcing manufacturers to meet certain emission levels.

He said manufacturers welcomed regulation to drive technology, adding that governments had big roles to play in setting the road maps for the future when it came to emission and what they wanted for their countries and cities.

“We (the industry) cannot set those targets and regulations company by company,” he said.

De Vries said it was hard for manufacturers to sell EVs at scale if there was not support in a city or country, because infrastructure, such as charging infrastructure, was needed for this type of technology.

He said sales of EVs was growing rapidly in Europe, especially in northern Europe and countries such as Norway and the Netherlands, where governments started to see they had a role to play in making cities better places to live in.

“In Europe, this is now a volume business. We have a four month waiting list on the new Leaf in most countries in Europe,” he said.

De Vries said there were many technology stimulation models, including a $5000 (R65700) to $6000 government subsidy in some markets to stimulate sales, while there was a penalty model, such as in Europe, where manufacturers would be penalised if emissions exceeded a certain level.

He added that London already had a congestion tax but EVs were excluded.

But De Vries said that for the coming few years there needed to be a financial aspect to stimulate the market, adding that in South Africa the problem was that there were import duties and VAT on something that was already quite expensive.

“It's bigger than an electric car with a discount. It's about solving mobility problems with technology, not just electric cars,” he said.

Whitfield stressed EV production would only commence in South Africa when there was a market for these vehicles.

“The government says they will only provide support if you manufacture here. "But there is no market here. You have to create a market first,” he said.

De Vries said if South Africa believed in this technology and wanted local manufacturing, it needed to stimulate sales of cars and battery plants.

He said it was dangerous to assume that any markets, such as emerging markets, were going to stay behind on technology.

“There is no such choice. You can be one, two or three years behind, but you cannot have two worlds running. It doesn’t work,” he said.

Whitfield said technology changes were happening “whether we like it or not”.

“If we don’t wake up and start moving forward, we are going to be left behind,” he said.

Whitfield said between the industry and government in South Africa had not got to the stage where they had a policy framework and strategy to start adopting all the new technologies but all the brands had recently come together through the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa to engage thegovernment.

- BUSINESS REPORT