You can enjoy shopping and taking in the breath-taking attractions while the electric car is charging in one of five electric stations located at the V&A Waterfront. Picture: Leon Lestrade/ African News Agency
You can enjoy shopping and taking in the breath-taking attractions while the electric car is charging in one of five electric stations located at the V&A Waterfront. Picture: Leon Lestrade/ African News Agency

Electric car manufacturers making in-roads

By Edwin Naidu Time of article published Jul 11, 2021

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Edwin Naidu

Several global car manufacturing giants are not put off by South Africa’s ongoing energy crisis, with many putting in place strategic plans to bring out their full arsenal of electric vehicles aimed at helping the climate and transforming the future of motoring.

As an early adopter in South Africa, one of the leaders in electric vehicle production BMW, spokesperson for German carmaker Hailey Philander, said it’s pleased with the strides made by the BMW i brand in the country since introducing the BMW i3 and i8 models in 2015. “They have been a growing presence on local roads. We remain committed to providing electric vehicles in South Africa.”

Philander said it planned to launch at least four vehicles from 2021 into early 2022, including, the BMW iX, BMW iX3 and BMW i4, while from the MINI stable, which is owned by BMW, there will be an updated MINI Cooper SE.

Given the energy challenges with Eskom, when asked about the steps in place to ensure owners are not inconvenienced as a result of power struggles, Philander said their dealerships were equipped with generators to provide power in the event of a loss of electricity supply.

“ChargeNow stations at these dealerships are accessible to electric vehicle drivers, even during periods of planned or unplanned power outages,” she added.

In an energy-scarce country, Philander said electric vehicles had not been shown to have a significant drain on the power supply, and BMW was optimistic that the power supply crisis currently being experienced would be resolved.

“We do, however, need to play our part in finding ways of taking pressure off the grid – by offering solutions to affected customers. The recommendation for owners and drivers is to charge the vehicle whenever it is not in use – whether it is stationary for 10 minutes or three hours. With our My BMW or My MINI App, which is available on Android and iOS smartphones, a customer has the ability to constantly monitor the status of the car even when they are not in it,” she said.

There are six DC fast chargers at dealerships nationwide – BMW Montana (Zambezi Auto) and BMW Club Fountains (Club Motors Fountain) in Pretoria, BMW Sandton and BMW Bedfordview in Johannesburg, BMW Pinetown (Supertech Pinetown) in KwaZulu-Natal and SMG Cape Town – that allow for charging of the i3 or Cooper SE from 0% to 80% in around 45 minutes.

Electric cars are about improving the company’s carbon footprint – especially in the production of electric vehicles. “We are deliberately focussing on pure electric and hybrid options – customers choose the powertrain best suited to their needs. That is why we are relying on flexible platforms, not standalone electric platforms, in our ramp-up to electromobility,” she added.

Neale Hill, managing director of Ford South Africa, said being part of a global organisation benefits the company from looking at how others have approached electric vehicles, for example, learning from the mistakes, educating car buyers, and addressing perceptions. These include concerns over the range and charging infrastructure.

“My hope is that the government introduces larger incentives for electric vehicles manufacture, incentivising original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to re-tool plants in South Africa. Norway is the classic example of what is achievable. All we need to do is copy and paste,” he said.

Norway is the world’s biggest electric market. Last year, 54% of all vehicles were sold from the electric vehicle range. Since the 1990s, Norwegian vehicle owners have received incentives aimed at promoting the use of zero-emissions vehicles in that market.

Honda South Africa General Manager of Automobiles, Dinesh Govender, cautioned that the country’s automotive industry was still in its electrification infancy. Honda roll-outs hybrid vehicles in South Africa and the South African Development Community (SADC) region as opposed to full electric vehicles.

“We believe that hybrids will become the natural stepping stone towards electrification and build consumer confidence. Until such time comes where South Africa has a stable and sustainable supply of power, the adoption of electric vehicles will always be at the back of consumers’ minds,” added Govender.

Leading global automaker Stellantis said it has a number of electric vehicle platforms and products in production across its brands, many of which would be ideally suited to the local market across the affordability spectrum.

Stellantis said the ability to maintain a charge in electric vehicles is not based on Eskom’s ability to generate power.

“When there are fuel production outages or logistical delivery constrictions, the country’s vehicle car park does not grind to a halt. In fact, electric vehicles provide a great opportunity to flatten the electricity demand curve through overnight charging, much like our behaviour with mobile communication devices has become habitual,” the firm added.

Renault SA said it has no plans to bring electric vehicles into the local market. “ Renault SA will not be in the forefront here, rather choosing to be a “fast follower” due to prohibitive factors, such as cost and demand.“

Subaru Southern Africa also has no plans to introduce an electric model to the market.

Janico Dannhauser, Product and Pricing Manager, Jaguar Land Rover South Africa and Sub-Sahara Africa, said the new Jaguar I-PACE Black would arrive in South Africa later in the year.

“Electric vehicles are one of the fastest-growing segments worldwide. They are what consumers want and what governments and legislators are pushing for. Electric vehicles are no longer niche: they are becoming mainstream,” Dannhauser added.

Haval SA’s Vaughan Swanepoel said the Chinese manufacturer was committed to the future in terms of alternate forms of energy. “We have plans in the near future to bring our Electric Brand ORA to South Africa.”

Swanepoel said electric vehicles reduce vehicle emissions and will help in decreasing the overall carbon footprint. “The increasing threat of climate change is a reality, and through electric vehicles, we can contribute positively,” he added.

Kia South Africa’s Gary Scott said the electric vehicle technology is rapidly changing, resulting in longer driving distances and shorter charging times, and as these two aspects continue to improve, this will create greater flexibility and reduced risk for customers.

Scott said recent global repositioning of the Kia brand highlighted that its future business strategy would be primarily driven by a diverse electric vehicle offering. “But without a policy that reduces the cost of importing electric vehicles to the South African market, we believe that any sales success will be undermined by affordability constraints,” he warned.

“Over the course of the next 12 months, we will be evaluating the various electric vehicle available to us, in the hope that a policy will be implemented allowing us to start offering electric vehicles for sale in 2023.”

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