Cape Town-100420-The Joule, South Africa's first electric powered car on display in front of Parliament. It was developed by Optimal Energy. Picture Jeffrey Abrahams

South Africa's almost-legendary Joule battery car - and we use that term deliberately because so few people have actually seen one, let alone driven it - has been mothballed.

The makers, Cape Town's Optimal Energy, having sunk hundreds of millions of your money and mine via the government-funded Industrial Development Corporation into the project (which has, we remind you, produced exactly four cars) have been unable to find a commercial partner willing to put in the R9 billion it would cost to set up a production line and build 50 000 cars, which was a pre-requisite for further funding from the IDC.

So, with no more money, the project has ground to a halt - or has it?

Optimal Energy's media liason official Jaco van Loggerenberg explained: “We have a drive-train that works, so we looked around for other applications that could bring in a revenue stream, while we continue to develop the Joule."


“The electric-car industry is just starting to gain traction worldwide with the introduction of the Nissan Leaf, so we haven't given up on the Joule by any means, but we needed something to bring in some cash in the meantime.”

And that something is… buses. Van Loggerenberg wouldn't say who the buses would be for, but he did say he had drawn up a persuasive business case for the IDC (more tax-payers' money!) in terms of which Optimal Energy would produce a batch of battery-powered inner-city buses, pre-sold to a large (presumably municipal) customer - which would, of course, pay for them with more public money.

If the Joule ever does get off the ground, every South African taxpayer should get one - because he or she will already have paid for it!