Slowly but surely more and more car manufacturers have started introducing fully electric cars to their production line. This comes as General Motors took on Tesla's Model S range of vehicles with the introduction of their Chevrolet Bolt released in 2016. The electric car may seem viable in countries that do not suffer from frequent power outages or even load-shedding for that matter. So the question must be asked, where does this leave South Africans who want to exchange their combustion engines for electronic energy?
In a recent poll, 40% of participants - out of 30 000 people - voted that they would purchase an electric vehicle. Fair enough. The curiosity and demand is there, but is the infrastructure? Not yet. Manufacturing giants Nissan and BMW have teamed up with national power supplier Eskom to study the effects these cars have on our already-stressed power grid. According to Barry McColl, Eskom's GM for research, testing and development, the energy consumption for electric vehicles on average is 0.19kWh and that equates to an electricity cost of R1.30 per kWh - which is 4.2 times cheaper than filling up with fuel.
On 25 May 2015, MW Group South Africa (BMW SA) and Nissan South Africa (NSA) signed a memorandum of agreement that will see the two makers jointly plan and build a national grid of vehicle charging stations for use by their respective electric vehicles - the Nissan LEAF and the BMW i3. In September last year, the BMW Group had installed the first phase of public charging infrastructure for electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles in Melrose Arch. From thereon the focus will be to locate charging stations in central areas such as shopping centres where customers spend most of their time.
Though the infrastructure is slowly being put into place, it does not mean that the green car is doomed in South Africa. Nissan started the zero emissions movement in 2010 when it introduced the LEAF as the world’s first mass-produced Electric Vehicle. Its innovative design, modern battery technology and role in creating a market for 100% electric vehicles were recognised when it was named World Car of the Year in 2011. The LEAF was introduced in South Africa in 2013 and to date over 150 000 units of the pure-electric LEAF has been sold worldwide.
BMW SA introduced its lithium-ion powered BMW i3 in March 2015. The model has received global recognition for its innovative technology and zero carbon emissions. In 2014 the BMW i3 was named the Green Car of the Year by the Green Car Journal.
Planning and building a national electric vehicle charging infrastructure is a major feat, and the grid will be managed by a joint task team comprising of executives from both manufacturers. This endeavor concluded in 2017; since sales of both manufacturers' compact cars have grown along with the increase of charging points, which is the electric car in South Africa's biggest problem.
By Shawn Greyling