Hala Motors chairperson and founder Siphiwe Dhlomo. Pictures: Bhekikaya Mabaso, ANA
Hala Motors chairperson and founder Siphiwe Dhlomo. Pictures: Bhekikaya Mabaso, ANA

Entrepreneur shifts gear in local car manufacturing

By Lesego Makgatho Time of article published Jul 12, 2021

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The green revolution in the local automotive sector is around the corner. And in the driving seat is Soweto-born Siphiwe Dhlomo, the chairperson and founder of Hala Motors.

“We cannot afford not to participate in the electric vehicle (EV) space. We simply cannot,” says Dhlomo about the endless possibilities available in the EV industry.

Innovative, forward-thinking and technical. These are just some of the words to describe Dhlomo.

Hala Motors chairperson and founder Siphiwe Dhlomo. Pictures: Bhekikaya Mabaso, ANA

The adept entrepreneur has his mind on a new innovative business venture that looks to better the lives of South Africans – the production of electric vehicles on our shores.

Hala Motors, which is a local EV company with its headquarters in Johannesburg, is currently working on becoming the first African manufacturer of electric taxis in South Africa.

Yem Yem Technologies CEO Pat Moleko. Picture: Bhekikaya Mabaso, ANA

The company’s primary focus is the design, development and production of electric passenger, commercial and commercial vans.

They have spent the last four years in the research and development of the electric minibus taxi for the South African market (Phase 1). The full bouquet includes light delivery vehicles (LDVs), sedans, sport utility vehicles (SUVs), trucks and ambulance vehicles.

“We are currently engaged in the planning of the Vehicle Manufacturing Programme phase of the project, parallel with the development of the Konsep1 Minibus Taxi,” says Dhlomo.

The company, which has secured land near Soweto, in what is known as West Rand Mega Park, has a vision to create a smart city that can unlock the wealth of the green economy for “the benefit of all South Africans”.

“Our vision is to significantly reduce carbon emissions, provide a cost-effective solution to 15 million commuters nationwide, and many more across Africa. We aim to use the connected mobility platform to reduce travel time and provide added technology for education, connectivity and shared mobility to utilise travel time productively.”

Dhlomo points out that their vision also encompasses entry-level 4-seater Hala EV/H2 vehicles (MPV - Multi-Purpose Vehicles and LDV– Light Delivery Vehicle) using a common chassis and components,” said Dhlomo.

According to him, as a country, we cannot afford to import electric vehicles and give rebates to companies that provide that service. He says it is important to impose taxes on such in order to protect local products.

“Locally manufactured vehicles should take precedence. We’ve had people wanting to bring in vehicles from India, China. But we have the opportunity to build our own electric vehicles. We tried to do it in the country over ten years ago, but the vehicle just didn’t do that well.”

Dhlomo says while this is a big project for them, they are not seeking money from government as they are doing this from their own pocket.

They do, however, have partners in Germany and Croatia who look to drive the project forward. He says it’s been a tough journey, but they are determined to see it through.

The company also aims to take 100 engineering graduates to the United States, Germany and Croatia to up-skill them in preparation for production of both batteries and EV manufacturing plants.

Talking about time frames of the project, he says they hope to launch the vehicles around 2023.

And on whether the taxi industry is open to this innovation, CEO of Yem Yem Technologies Pat Moleko says they have the much-needed buy-in.

“We did intensive research and a study looking into what drives taxi drivers and owners. We looked at what their biggest costs are, what their biggest income streams are, and they only have one income stream – to get a passenger on the taxi and pay for the ride.

"When you look at the cost element, one of their biggest costs is fuel. The second highest cost was their brake pads. Then we have tyres and other general maintenance on the vehicle,” says Moleko.

While doing this research, Moleko says they found that 40-50% of taxi operators’ profits are consumed by just these maintenance items.

"And if you had to replace all those things with an electric vehicle, you’d have zero costs on fuel, and you’d probably have 70% fewer costs on your brake pads. They (the drivers) would need to service their vehicle at 80 000 km. And so these are all items we need to package properly as a value proposition to the taxi industry.”

The team has approached the South African taxi industry, speaking to various associations. The innovation of electric vehicles looks to appeal to the motor industry at large. According to Moleko, the rollout of the charging stations on the N3, N1 is a work in progress.

“So, at almost every major filling station, such as your Shell or Engine garage, you will find that there is charging infrastructure of some sort to help deal with some challenges. We are going to change the way we teach our kids. We are going to change our way of living.”

In a country gripped by load shedding, how will this fare?

Moleko says these stations will draw power from various sources. In far-flung areas not connected to the grid, they'll turn to solar power solutions to support the charging stations.

“Because we are affected by load shedding, we are also looking at electric power and solar power.

“We want to make sure that anything that we do benefits black people. We have a team of electricians that we work with within one of our current projects, and those are the people we want to upscale to build and maintain the charging stations.

"At the end of the day, we want convenience and affordability, not only for South Africans, but Africans across the continent,” Moleko adds.

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