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The cascade is coming: South Africa needs to prepare for the EV revolution

By Jaguar
05 Jul 2021 3

Who remembers the first time they saw a factory-installed satnav system in a car? That colourful map housed in a hi-tech digital display, guiding your travel like an all-knowing cartographer in the sky. It seemed space-age at the time. Fantasy brought to life. Certainly, the reserve of upper crust motorists with deep pockets and fancy garages.

That navigation system you first witnessed was likely in a high-end model from a premium carmaker, where more often than not, new tech is introduced before it cascades down through model ranges and eventually becomes an expected feature in entry-level offerings from budget brands.

With volume, comes economies of scale and expensive technology ripe for early adopters and upper-end cars where the price accommodates it, ultimately becomes more affordable and consequently more attainable. These technology flows are common in the automotive space. It was the case with disc brakes (essentially transferred from more expensive aircraft technology), stability control systems, LED lighting and keyless entry to name a few. These are just some of the features that were introduced in premium cars before eventually finding their way downrange to mass-market products on every showroom floor today.

Now think about electric vehicles. You’ve likely seen one, you’re aware of their growing presence and you’re intrigued by the so-called EV revolution happening overseas. And, just like that first satnav system, it seems like a fantasy that’s just too far out of reach for the masses. In all fairness, it may seem even more alien because it’s a whole powertrain revolution toppling an engrained engine tradition over a century old.

But think diesel and its adoption from the premium segment down. It was considered a truck solution until its attendant benefits became too difficult to ignore. Diesel engines were first properly introduced in the South African passenger vehicle market in 1995 via a few premium German sedans, and with them, the appeal of hefty torque and relatively low fuel consumption began to trickle down through model ranges to the point diesel was expected as an option in even the most basic hatchbacks.   

It’s no secret that of the three electric vehicles available in South Africa right now, all come from premium brands – Jaguar included. It’s a new technology and for the moment EVs are associated with a lifestyle change that’s easier for the upper crust to embrace. But the trickle-down is inevitable. Don’t believe that South Africa is so far behind the global mobility trend curve to adopt it: it’s already happening in the markets I assure you we will mimic in coming years. 

Predicting the future of the South African motor industry and how the complexion of new car showrooms evolves over the next decades is a difficult task. But by watching what’s happening in the regions legislating definite deadlines on internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle bans, we can get a pretty clear idea of what’s coming our way.

Over the next five years, the EV population in our market will grow quickly in the premium segment. It’s here where brands can more easily justify new EV model introductions within more premium cars to absorb more costly technologies. Equally, higher-income customers are naturally more willing to adopt new technologies earlier and experiment with alternative power sources in their cars.

By the end of the decade, many of the barriers to EV entry will have toppled. Battery and recharging technologies will have improved, more affordable offerings from a broader range of brands will be in market, the private sector will have invested in domestic infrastructure development, and the resistance and skepticism we see now from the buying public will have eased. Electric propulsion will no longer be an out-of-reach fantasy; it will be an expectation of consumers for their vehicles of choice regardless of which tax bracket they live in.

Will I predict a date when ICE vehicles will no longer be for sale in South Africa? No, because I believe that date is far away. I expect diesel engines will phase out sooner than petrol, but as long as demand exists in heavily populated regions unaffected by legislative internal combustion bans, carmakers will continue to build and sell vehicles powered by fossil fuels. I foresee a number of models driven by internal combustion on local pricelists for quite some time, but more toward the budget and workhorse-type light commercial end of the new vehicle spectrum. 

Mass EV adoption in South Africa is not optional. As more global cities, countries and regions mark lines in the sand for ICE vehicle bans, some as soon as 2025, more carmakers are shifting business priorities to match these deadlines. Nearly every automotive brand has, to varying degrees, announced plans to ramp up EV development and model introductions and with each arrival, we inch closer to the demise of ICE cars.

Internal combustion engines are already on a one-way path to becoming redundant and OEMs are shifting investment focus to future business opportunities. This is undeniable. It’s a simple fact that the cars sold in local dealerships are sourced from the very places already making the switch. If the selection of cars available to us is moving toward alternative power sources, these are the cars we will sell. We will not have the luxury of choice for much longer.

EV integration will start at the top in the upper tiers of premium segments and cascade down to mainstream and entry-level vehicles over time. By 2030 the South African new car park will be largely electrified. DM

 

This article was written by Janico Dannhauser.

Janico Dannhauser is the Product and Pricing Manager for Jaguar Land Rover South Africa, and he serves on the Naamsa EV sub-committee

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  • We don’t even have enough electricity to keep the lights on…not to mention the lack of recharge infrastructure that would make EVs impossible at this point in time. The pricing for EVs is of course makes EVs unobtainable for most people. Finally, there are environmental and social concerns about some of the resources required by EVs and the batteries they use.

    • I think he’s talking about 9 years time, not this point in time. I imagine the infrastructure will by then be set up and running, just as cellphone infrastructure was set up when cellphones were available and the infrastructure became essential.

      • Jaguar already has many charging stations around the country, and as we roll out more solar and wind energy, this will become available; the metals for batteries? I admit this is a concern, as both mining practices and the finite resource are matters of concern.

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