Participants include the next-generation Nissan Leaf, which has not yet been launched in South Africa.

PORT ELIZABETH - The inaugural EVRT Africa successfully passed the halfway mark on Saturday October 5, as the seven electric vehicles arrived in Port Elizabeth after an epic 1000km road trip from Pretoria that began on Wednesday, passing Bloemfontein, the Gariep Dam and Graaff Reinet on its way to the coast.

EVRT, the abbreviation means exactly that – Electric Vehicle Road Trip - is the brain child of Generation-e co-founder and CEO Ben Pullen. The African iteration follows the successful roll out of the concept in the Middle East and Europe over the last four years on a mission to evangelise the need for smarter mobility and in particular the use of electro mobility, in a world beset by climate change  and global warming sparked by greenhouse gases, a significant part of which is due to vehicle emissions.

David Rubia, the programme officer for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) based in Nairobi, Kenya, drove the first leg from Pretoria to Port Elizabeth. It’s the first time UNEP has been involved in the initative.

“Our Air Quality and Mobility Unit has worked hard to improve air quality by getting the world weaned off leaded petrol and worked hard with governments to curb vehicle emissions in their own countries but the reality is that Africa in particular won’t make its emission targets.”

It’s a statistic that comes into sharp relief with the projected spike in the global motorisation rate, currently at 1-billion, which is set to triple by 2050, mostly in the developing world.

Electric vehicles, he says, provide a real alternative to the impending crisis. Many people though are still sceptical about the technology, says Pullen, which is precisely the point about EVRT Africa, a 2000km road trip across South Africa, dispelling issues around range anxiety – the distance that can be travelled between battery recharges – and the available infrastructure.

“We chose South Africa for a multitude of reasons; the differing terrain, the juxtaposition of the very developed and rich urban communities and the very poor rural areas – it’s a great place to test mobility and find mobility solutions.”

The road trip, which followed the inaugural African mobility summit on October 1 and 2 in Pretoria, was specifically scheduled for October, South Africa’s transport month, and began in Pretoria because of the support that the initiative has received from the South African Department of Transport, Gauteng province and the city of Tshwane – all of whom have sent delegates to the road trip itself. The seven EVs being used have been donated by the three major OEMs in the EV space: Nissan, BMW and Jaguar.

For Rubia, the road trip has been an ideal opportunity to reframe electro mobility in an African concept, bringing policy makers, industry and the public – through the media – together to prove what can be achieved rather than the debate always being a western conversation.

“This is no longer a pipe dream, something that might happen in 50 years, this will happen tomorrow. It’s a simple switch,” he says.

For Pullen, the lessons so far are not the cars and the cutting-edge technology they contain, but rather the constraints imposed by infrastructure, particularly charging stations.”

“Those challenges though are an opportunity – and potential job creators all over the country.”

EVRT Africa ends on Thursday October 10 in Cape Town.

Kevin Ritchie is a freelance writer

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