EVs in South Africa

Tram in Kimberley EV history

I grew up in the 60s and 70s in Johannesburg. We had EVs back then. Beautiful red electric trolleybuses glided silently and drew power from overhead cables. We also had trams and milk floats.

At dawn, a humming sound announced the arrival of the slowest vehicle since the ox-wagon, and a uniformed man hopped off and delivered milk and cream in glass bottles at your door.

Electric vehicles and recyclable packaging? When did we lose the plot?

It’s no use debating that, backward-looking sentiments won’t get us anywhere. But if we look forward, we will see plenty of electric vehicles. I don’t think we’ll ever see electric trolleybuses or milk floats again, but the electric passenger car is here.

Recently a farmer told me he couldn’t see it happening. “South Africans love to hear that roar when they press the accelerator.” I think he meant South Africans love power. I also think he gets a picture of a milk float in his head when he hears the word EV. He should check out the carwow video which shows (skip to 7:02) an Audi EV powering to 100km/h within 3 seconds. Quietly.

But he is right; there is inertia in SA towards considering EVs as an alternative. From government policymakers to Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), from the public in general to petrolheads in particular. This inertia is based on a lack of knowledge. There is also an unwillingness to change the status quo when it comes to adopting modern technologies. It is hard to change habits and opinions that have been formed over one hundred years. It’s a lot less risky testing out a new R3000 smartphone, than committing to a 5-year R400 000 EV purchase.

Let’s look at the stats. In 2014 a total of 480 EVs were sold in South Africa. These brave early adopters made out 0.1% of new car sales that year. In 2021 only 896 were sold. That is an increase of 0.09% to 0.19% of total new car sales. A slow increase for sure, but an increase, nonetheless.

But two factors will see that figure rise significantly over the next few years. Firstly. the price of EVs will come down as EV-related technology becomes cheaper, and economies of scale are achieved – not only in SA but also worldwide.

Secondly, seeing is believing. Once people see recharging stations pop up all over the place, they will begin to believe that EVs are here to stay and offer a competitive alternative.

There is a third factor that could see EV sales grow significantly – the government. The SA government needs to create a policy to implement a move away from carbon-producing fossil fuels. It also needs to incentivize the public to switch to EVs, by giving EV owners a tax break. It also needs to incentivize local OEMs to start producing EVs at scale. But don’t take my word for it: Mark Whitfield CEO of Nissan and President of the African Association of Automotive manufacturers says:

“We are moving away from internal combustion engines. By 2030, about 100 million electric cars will be sold”.

In the linked article Whitfield gets across the urgency of this matter – South Africa simply has to get a share of that 100 million EV pie – because our current share of the internal combustion engine pie will be history.

Thanks for reading. If you have any feedback on the content of this blog, let me know.

AUTHOR: Tim Sandham

Tim is a greying redhead who thinks green. He is the author of books on welding, soccer and Herman Charles Bosman

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