Electric vehicles in South Africa – Government is a big problem

Despite seeing a massive surge in popularity in the global car market, electric vehicles have still not made an impact in South Africa.

Tesla has seen impressive uptake in the US and Europe and rolled out 367,500 new cars in 2019. It has now produced almost 1 million vehicles since 2012.

However, in South Africa, the adoption of electric vehicles has been limited.

Local consumers have the option of three all-electric vehicles – BMW’s i3, Jaguar’s I-PACE and the Nissan Leaf.

MyBroadband spoke to these manufacturers about the state of the electric vehicle industry in the country.

Limited local sales

According to Jaguar Land Rover South Africa, since 2013 a total of just over 300 all-electric vehicles were sold by them, BMW and Nissan combined.

It could not comment on the exact number of I-PACE units it had sold, but said that the car has “far exceeded expectations” and that demand is “extremely positive.”

BMW Group South Africa said it has sold 700 vehicles in South Africa under the i-Brand, which includes both its fully-electric i3 and hybrid performance car, the i8. Of these sales, 100 took place in 2019.

Nissan did not provide exact sales figures of the LEAF but said that adoption is slow and is expected to remain this way as things stand.

According to its numbers, around 400 electric vehicles have been sold in total in South Africa.

Policy issues

The manufacturers pointed out that one of the biggest barriers to wider EV adoption in South Africa is government policy, which greatly affects pricing.

“There has, to this point, been very little government support for EVs in South Africa,” BMW said.

This lack of support is made evident by an additional import penalty of 7% on electric vehicles from Europe, which puts the total duty on these cars at 25%, compared to 18% for regular cars.

“Industry is engaging with government regarding the potential duty and incentive structure for EVs,” Jaguar Land Rover said.

“Currently all EVs are fully imported and therefore subject to the same price influencers as other imported vehicles. It is unclear when price parity between ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles and EVs will be achieved due to the current import duty situation, and lack of incentives,” Jaguar Land Rover added.

Nissan agreed that import tariffs pose a problem, but added that lowering these might not be enough to stimulate demand.

“Other incentives and infrastructure development must be combined with enabling legislation in order to successfully fast-track the establishment of a local EV market. Once these elements are addressed, we should see significant growth in a very short time, as the running cost of EV is a fraction of that of normal combustion engines,” it stated.

BMW said that apart from legislation, customer demand and innovative partnerships are key to EV growth in South Africa.

“We are confident that the revised Automotive Production and Development Programme (APDP), which comes into effect from 2020 to 2035, will facilitate closer cooperation on discussions around EV imports and future infrastructure developments. We expect electric car infrastructure to continue expanding locally.”

Education on EVs

Jaguar Land Rover pointed out that education around electric vehicles was also important.

“Consumer education and the correction of common misconceptions about EVs is key. With the continuous spread of proper EV education most consumers would likely discover that regular travel by electric vehicle is not only viable but also very appealing.”

The company said there are big financial advantages to owning an electric car like the I-PACE.

“By Jaguar’s calculations, energy costs to fuel an I-PACE work out to between one-third and one-quarter that of a diesel vehicle with similar power outputs and performance. This estimate should, in theory, apply to any EV from any brand whether in existence or yet to be introduced.”

Additionally, electric vehicle owners are not subjected to the fluctuating prices of petrol and diesel.

Range anxiety is another factor that makes consumers hesitant to take an EV off the showroom floor, but the company said it believes the I-PACE’s maximum range of 470km is sufficient enough for most daily journeys.

Load-shedding threat

Another possible hurdle with regards to the public perception of EV viability is the state of Eskom and the prevalence of load-shedding.

Potential buyers may be scared off by the possibility of not being able to charge their car at any given moment.

To provide power during outages, both BMW and Jaguar Land Rover said all of its local dealerships are equipped with generators or backup power.

BMW added that outside of its dealerships, most of its ChargeNow public charging stations are supplemented by either generators or electricity from solar panels.

Jaguar Land Rover said around half of all of its other public charging stations along the Jaguar Powerway, including ones crucial to completion of long-distance journeys such as Harrismith, are fed by backup generators.

“Even when load-shedding is at its worst in South Africa the chances of arriving at a public charging station that is completely off-line is very improbable,” Jaguar Land Rover stated.

In case of an emergency stranding, BMW offers customers its 24-hour on-call service.

“BMW On Call will transport the car on a flatbed to the nearest charging facility with power, or any location that is convenient to the client, should the battery pack be depleted or low on power.”

Nissan said it is looking at adding solar chargers and batteries to many of its charging points to reduce its reliance on the grid.

The company pointed out, however, that the LEAF features Nissan’s Vehicle-to-Everything  (V2X) system which gives users the ability to feed excess power from their car into their homes, offices, or the electricity grid.

Now read: Tesla Model Y set to launch soon

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Electric vehicles in South Africa – Government is a big problem