South Africa

South Africa

The future of cars is electrifying

The future of cars is electrifying
The revolutionary all electric Jaguar I-PACE. (Photo: supplied)

Whether South Africa is ready or not, the global motoring industry is planning to phase out combustion vehicle engines within the next two decades, to go all-out electric.

The history of the electric car is a fascinating one, told brilliantly in the 2006 documentary Who Killed The Electric Car? by US filmmaker Chris Paine.

The doccie tracks the launch of the first EV by General Motors in 1997 after strict air emissions were announced in California. The EV-1 was a revolutionary vehicle, requiring absolutely no fossil fuel. Yet, just six years later, GM inexplicably destroyed the entire EV-1 fleet. They literally shredded the cars to death. According to Paine, the EV murders lay squarely at the feet of the “oil companies and the internal combustion engine monopoly”.

In a 2006 interview with the US mag Motor Trend, the former CEO of GM, Rick Wagoner – the man blamed for giving the orders to destroy the EV-1 – admitted his greatest regret was “killing the electric car”. Ironically, in 2017, Wagoner joined the board of ChargePoint, a company that maintains charging stations for EVs.

As depressing as the eye-opening Who Killed The Electric Car? is, the documentary ends on a high note with the first glimpse of the first super-fast Tesla electric sports prototype. Today Tesla is the most valuable US car manufacturer, worth around $53.5-billion, about $3-billion more than General Motors.

Due to the initial path set by the Toyota Prius – a hybrid – the Nissan Leaf EV and largely due to the EV techno trail of Tesla, much has changed since the film’s release 13 years ago.

Electric vehicles have started to become commonplace in many parts of the world. Globally, the number of EV passenger cars climbed 63% between 2017 and 2018, to reach more than five million units.

Petrol and diesel guzzling South Africa is lagging way behind.

Of the estimated 12-million cars registered in SA, less than 1,000 are EVs – and that includes hybrids. This is according to UK-based Ben Pullen, who recently organised an EV road trip across SA, in an attempt to bring home the idea of going electric.

The aim was to inspire the nation to become excited about electric vehicles and smarter mobility. Essentially, it was to raise awareness and educate the market.”

In the UK, by 2040, combustion engines will no longer be sold. In Norway, one in every two cars is electric. In 2010, closer to SA, Mauritius rolled out its first charging stations and today the small island is home to a slew of hybrid and fully electric cars.

South Africa should be worried. The shocking EV-averse state we find ourselves in must be largely attributed to the lack of support and foresight government has shown in the electric vehicle arena, refusing to adapt to the times by charging 7% more import tax duties on EVs than duties on combustion cars. In many countries, EVs are zero-rated or incentivised with tax rebates.

According to Pullen, along with hefty EV taxation:

There is also a perception that the electricity grid cannot support electric vehicles, when in fact it can. Like all electricity grids around the world, the transition to electric vehicles requires the grid to upgrade in areas. This is a good thing.”

However, I am not sure whether Pullen truly understands the disastrous state Eskom is in. I must admit, before doing the research, I joined the chorus of other EV sceptics to bleat: “But what about load shedding!” But then I got a bit more open-minded. Up till now we thankfully haven’t had 24-hour a day blackouts. There are load shedding schedules. Just as we plan recharging our phones, laptop and power packs, the same will apply when recharging an EV.

This year, at a media briefing during the launch of the revolutionary Jaguar all-electric I-PACE, Jaguar Land Rover South Africa’s network development director, Brian Hastie, addressed fears that EVs might strain our already-unstable electricity network. He quoted a CSIR study that showed the addition of EVs would have little effect on the grid. Working with an assumption that 25% of cars on SA roads were EVs – which is actually incredibly unrealistic given the current number of SA EVs, the study showed minimal changes to the load profile, as most electric cars would be charged by owners at their home charge stations overnight when the demand on the grid was low.

Then there’s the favourable pricing of charging a battery rather than filling up with petrol or diesel. Granted, the price of electricity and fuel fluctuates, but recharging the I-PACE from empty to full at home, will cost around R200.

And what about the range and access to charging stations?” the EV range-anxious screech. At the launch of the I-PACE, Jaguar announced a game-changing partnership with GridCars, a charging system provider that has installed a R30-million network of about 80 new charging stations, called the Jaguar Powerway, across SA in major hubs and along the main holiday routes. These charging ports are also compatible with other manufacturers’ EVs and plug-in hybrids.

But how long will it take to charge my car?” the sceptics query.

This depends on the size of the EV’s battery, but in an I-PACE a charge from zero to 80% takes about 70 minutes and for a top-up of 100km your EV can be charged in 20-30 minutes.

I recently test-drove the I-PACE for three days in Cape Town and was impressed with the claimed 470km range, supported by a 90kWh battery pack in the Jag’s floor. The I-PACE’s range is a huge leap forward from the early days of the first-generation Leaf which only had a worrisome 160km available.

Even if realistically the available range lands up at around 420km, given that the average person drives about 60-100km a day, there’s plenty of charge at hand for daily driving. When I got range-anxious I zipped off to the closest charging station to my home in the north at Jaguar N1 City. I pulled out my iPad, caught up on some emails and sipped on complimentary coffee in the dealer’s showroom. Before I knew it, my feline was full.

Additionally, lithium-ion battery technology is improving at the speed of light. It’s safely predicted that within the next five years EVs’ ranges will double. In April this year, Tesla’s Elon Musk, who has been at the forefront of world energy storage technology, announced that a new battery pack, designed to last at least 1.6-million kilometres, will be available in 2020.

The I-PACE is clearly the EV halo in the black cat’s stable. It’s a genius combo of luxury and power, dispelling any idea that EVs aren’t pacey and dynamic. With nearly 700Nm of torque available from a total standstill and 294kW on tap, the mind boggles as the I-PACE hits off the mark, full acceleration available in an instant. And all in almost eerie silence. Its speed is breathtaking, whizzing from 0-100km in just 4.8 seconds.

Because the delivery of torque is instantaneous, I had to keep reminding myself to watch out when pulling off at stop points or changing lanes. Accelerating too early might cause you to rear-end the car in front of you. The I-PACE is also brilliantly agile, taking corners and changing direction with ease.

Design-wise, the electric Jag is a world car trailblazer – a heady mix of a sporty coupé, a five-door hatchback and an SUV. This year it won a historic treble at the 2019 World Car Awards where it was named World Car of the Year, World Car Design of the Year as well as World Green Car.

It’s clear as you enter the cabin that Jaguar’s aim was to go premium all the way. My test car featured leather, leather and more leather and where there is no leather, high-quality materials adorn all surfaces. It’s a digital diva with its large centre display, a digital instrument binnacle and a third lower touchscreen for functions like climate control.

Because the wheels are pushed quite far to the four corners of the car, and there’s no need for a gearbox tunnel, the interior space has been increased to allow for extra room for rear-seat passengers and three medium-sized adults can comfortably relax in the back.

In an otherwise almost perfect vehicle, my one small gripe is luggage space in the boot, which has been slightly compromised due to a second motor located on the rear axle. This makes the load bay fairly shallow, although while it loses in height it does have impressive depth. The spare wheel further eats up some of the boot space, which at my guess could probably accommodate three people’s luggage. But definitely not Imelda Marcos’s.

And if you think the I-PACE is averse to getting dirty, think again. The black cat is an off-road errmmm…leopard. I took the I-PACE off the beaten track at its media launch event in Gauteng. I had to brace myself for taking this piece of art across some pretty hard-core rocky surfaces by switching on a crawling feature called All Surface Progress Control, whereby one sets the crawl speed by using the cruise control toggle. The I-PACE sailed across mean-looking gravel and even through a deepish stretch of the Jukskei River. With its wading depth of 500mm, the I-PACE lost any feline fear of water. In all honesty, I doubt many I-PACE owners are going to go deep off-roading à la Land Cruiser, but the fact that it can is a huge bonus.

For electric vehicles to gain traction in SA, Ben Pullen is adamant that the government needs to come on board for South Africans to embrace the concept of smarter mobility.

The main change that government could make is to bring the tax in line with either the 1,000cc vehicles which have 0% import duty or bring them in line with vehicles above 1,000cc, which are taxed at 17% .”

There is little doubt that the introduction of the I-PACE into the SA market and Jaguar’s commitment to trailblazing charging infrastructure will prove to be an electric shed moment when we look back in a few years to come.

Jaguar Land Rover has made its commitment clear. By 2020, every Jaguar and Land Rover model will have an electrified derivative (mild hybrid, plug-in hybrid or full EV).

In May, Volkswagen announced the global launch of its first fully electric offering, the ID.3 First Edition, comparing it to the significance of the game-changing VW Beetle and Golf. The Audi E-Tron, the Mercedes EQC and the second-generation Nissan Leaf are all rumoured to be making their way to SA roads next year.

Porsche’s first EV, the Taycan, began production this year and will hopefully reach our shores in 2020. Last week, Volvo unveiled its first all-electric car in Los Angeles, the XC40 Recharge, where CEO Håkan Samuelsson hailed the XC40 as the first vehicle in a line-up of Recharge-branded EVs that will help the Swedish automaker achieve its plan to totally phase out fossil fuel-powered vehicles.

But beyond range anxiety, accessible charging points and government’s reluctance to drop import EV taxes and offer incentives, the price of electric vehicles is still prohibitive for the majority of South Africans. The I-PACE costs between R1,687,000 for the S derivative and a whopping R1,920,700 for the First Edition.

Jaguar provides back-up in the form of an eight-year/160,000 km battery warranty, and because of the low maintenance nature of electric vehicles, service intervals are at two-year or 34,000km intervals, but it’s still a damn expensive car.

The only other fully EV available right now in SA is the BMW i3 which at baseline price costs a hefty R637,300. (However, in September, BMW announced that production of the i3 and i8 is set to be discontinued.)

By 2025, it’s predicted that 11% of cars sold globally will be purely electrically powered. By 2040, EVs will surpass internal-combustion engine vehicles, with a 55% market share. If we don’t remain EV-phobic it’s possible that by 2025 there will be more than 145,000 electric vehicles on South African roads.

What the SA market truly needs is a cheap alternative to change the minds of the sceptics and cash-strapped buyers. And the French may just have come up with the answer. In early September the Renault City K-ZE was announced for the Chinese market. Priced at around $8,700 (R130k), with a range of 250km and run on a 30kWh battery, this might be the vehicle that changes the EV landscape in SA. It clearly will be no I-PACE, but it could get the battery rolling.

See you at the charging station. DM


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