What’s happening in the First World?

Green energy is growing

It is interesting to drive through countries in Europe like Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Iceland. Especially if it is after a few years hiatus. A good example is Iceland – country with only green energy and a surplus at that. My previous experience of Iceland was in 2014 and I saw exactly one electric car – a Tesla Model S. This time was however totally different. What is immediately clear is the huge increase of electric and hybrid vehicles. Nine years ago, there was a prevalence of efficient small diesel cars but it has totally changed. Just doing an informal survey in Reykjavik indicates a roughly 30% market share of hybrids and 30% market share of electric cars. It is a bit more difficult to spot the hybrid cars, but it was interesting to note that for example every Jeep that I spotted (Wrangler, Rubicon, Limited, etc) was the 4xe version – i.e., the hybrid. The electrical cars are easier to spot and suddenly they are everywhere – and that within 9 years! This obviously makes a lot of sense in a country with an abundant supply of self-generated electricity (about 70% hydro and 30% geo-thermal) and very expensive imported fuel (R40 / l) and it is only going to accelerate from here.

Another interesting factor is the variety and competition within the electric vehicle market. I expected Teslas (maybe even more than the 30% EV market share that my informal survey showed) but the number of VW ID models, Hyundai, Kia, Volvo, Polestar, Ford Mach-e, Audi E-tron, Mercedes EQ and so on, surprised me. Even Renaults and Peugeots, Seats, Skodas – the list goes on. The variety of models is staggering and set to increase dramatically as new entrants and startups from elsewhere is also going to start appearing. There is clearly plenty of choice and people are exercising this.

tesla charging stations

How do these cars charge?

This is not that clear. You do see the occasional lead coming out of the building plugged into a car (many houses do not have garages) but more obvious is the charging stations that are appearing everywhere. There is no clear pattern. Sometimes you find a charger at a gas station, many times outside a shop or shopping centre. Sometimes there is a station by its own (Tesla had a three-charger station in Hőfn) but again the variety of chargers are interesting. There are different brands, and they use different payment methods. Like in most countries, this is a challenge. We spoke to the owner of an electric car. She decided that she wanted an electric car and bought one of the cheapest in Iceland, a Hyundai Kona Electric and she loves it. Her house is in Reykjavik, but her business is up north west (Skagastrőnd) which is about 266 km. Range is not a problem. She charges at home on weekends and during the week she plugs into a normal plug in the kitchen. Slow charging, which is not a problem in that scenario. Extreme cold does affect the battery performance and she had to charge along the way once in winter. 

EV adventures
EV adventures
EV adventures

Way forward

The idea of an electric car is not that novel anymore and most families is planning to buy at least one car for the family as a next purchase and furthermore the regulators are laying down the rules forcing the adoption effectively. Car sales are down in general in Europe, and I believe that one of the reasons are that people are uncertain about what to buy and delaying their purchase. Electric cars are still more expensive than ICE cars and there is also still uncertainty about charging and range. Although there are marvellous cars from Mercedes, Audi, Tesla, etc., they are still relatively expensive, but this is about to change. I saw a MG4 in Copenhagen – a car that is selling well due to a great value offering. 

I also visited a BYD showroom inside a mall in Copenhagen and spent a bit of time with the BYD Atto 3 medium size SUV, costing 354995 DK (R976 230).

The specs of the Atto 3: 150 kW motor, 60.48 kWh battery (using BYD’s own blade LFP batteries), Acceleration 0 – 100 km is 7,3 seconds and claimed (WLTP) range of 420 km. It can charge from 30 to 80% in 30 minutes at an 80 kW DC charger. It has great quality materials being used, everything is soft touch and solidly mounted. It is roomy and fully specc’ed (the only options are paint colour and wheel size) with features like 4G connection, 7 airbags (one between the front passengers too), great driver assistance tools (adaptive driver assistance, bind spot detection, emergency braking, including cyclist detection, 360-degree cameras, etc). All in all, so much bigger and better equipped than my BMW i3 at almost the same price. It now become competitive with ICE cars on spec and soon you will get more for your EV than your ICE car. It is already cheaper than a Lexus NX for example.

Many years before electric cars come to SA? I doubt it.

I suspect there is going to be an influx of Chinese cars into Europe as well as South Africa at a price point that will be compelling. There is an image challenge, like what we see in South Africa, and the way this will be overcome is to simply offer high value products supported by excellent warranties, like how the Japanese and Korean brands had to create support in previous decades. With the pressure to move to electric cars I believe that the Chinese, as leaders in the world (with cost and technology), is going to make more headway than we would have foreseen as buyers to take the plunge. And it is going to happen soon.

The interesting thing is that we are more adaptable than we think. We get our new cell phone, or iWatch and move on immediately. We will be driving electric cars and bakkies soon and be used to it just as quickly.

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