Strap in and get ready, the electric revolution is coming. Jaguar's I-Pace, with a claimed 470km range, will soon become the third electric vehicle to go on sale in SA. PICTURE: Denis Droppa
Strap in and get ready, the electric revolution is coming. Jaguar's I-Pace, with a claimed 470km range, will soon become the third electric vehicle to go on sale in SA. PICTURE: Denis Droppa

The age of the electric car as our mainstream mode of transport is not some distant outlook; it will be upon us sooner than we think.

Range anxiety, slow charging times, SA’s long distances and very expensive price tags have kept electric vehicles (EVs) out of SA’s motoring mainstream, but all that is set to change quite rapidly.

EV sales have grown exponentially since 2012 and it’s predicted that by 2025, 11% of cars sold globally will be purely electrically powered, and by 2040 they will surpass internal-combustion engine (ICE) cars with a 55% market share. If SA tracks the same growth path we may have more than 145,000 EVs on our roads by 2025, said Jaguar Land Rover SA at a media briefing in Gauteng last week.

The trend to mass-produce EVs is being driven by targets to cut pollution, with the latest move being the EU's directive in December to reduce car-based greenhouse emissions by 37.5% by 2030.

Global EV sales are accelerating with more than 4-million electrified cars sold around the world in 2018, though the trend has been slow to take hold in SA.

For now only two EVs are on sale here, the BMW i3 and the Nissan Leaf, but they are soon to be joined by the Jaguar I-Pace, the Audi E-Tron, the Mercedes EQC, a new range-extended i3, and also most likely the second-generation Nissan Leaf, while Tesla has also stated that it will launch its cars here soon. Porsche’s first EV, the Taycan, begins production this year and will reach our shores in 2020.

The Porsche Taycan is one of a number of new EVs headed for SA in the next couple of years. Picture: SUPPLIED
The Porsche Taycan is one of a number of new EVs headed for SA in the next couple of years. Picture: SUPPLIED

The so-called electric revolution is just a trickle in SA for now, but high fuel prices may start swinging consumer sentiment more towards EVs as some of the barriers to acceptance are being broken down.

To deal with range anxiety and SA’s long distances, Jaguar has — in partnership with GridCars, a provider of charging systems — installed a R30m network of 82 new charging stations in major hubs and along major holiday routes across SA, known as the Jaguar Powerway. For a fee these fast-chargers can juice-up EVs to 100km of range in 20 to 30 minutes, and from zero to full in about 90 minutes, with the network being open to all makes of EVs.

Secondly, lithium-ion battery technology is improving at a rapid rate and it is predicted that in five years’ time EV ranges will double. Already the I-Pace claims a 470km range, a huge improvement over the 160km of the first-generation i3 and Leaf.

Going green doesn’t come cheap, however, and the major issue is still the cost of electric cars, with Jaguar’s new I-Pace model range to sell for between R1,687,000 and R1,920,700 — representing huge premiums over Jaguar’s similarly-sized but combustion-powered F-Pace SUV which ranges from R802,000 to R1,400,000.

A baseline BMW i3 costs R637,300 and the second-generation Nissan Leaf isn’t likely to sell for much less than R600,000 which is still too rich for most pockets.

As their build volumes increase and battery technology gets cheaper, however, we can expect mass-market EV cars to deliver us to our electric promised land. It is predicted that within four or five years there will be price parity between EV and ICE cars overseas due to volumes and economies of scale, Winstone Jordaan, director of GridCars, told journalists at last week’s Jaguar Land Rover briefing.

To make such cars more affordable locally the government would need to come to the party as EVs imported to SA are taxed at 25% compared to 18% for ICE cars, and local motor companies are lobbying the department of trade and industry to relax the tariffs. It’s likely to be a hardsell, given the negative impact that increased EV sales would have on fuel tax revenue.

Once sticker prices come down more consumers will be attracted to the main appeal of EVs: their low running costs. About 80% of charging will be done at home with the balance at shopping malls, motor dealers and other public areas, says GridCar’s Jordaan.

BMW and Nissan, the early adopters, have so far incentivised sales of their EVs by offering free fast-charging at their dealerships, but Jordaan believes this will not be sustainable as EV sales grow, and other car makers will likely follow Jaguar’s lead to charge for charging.

The price of electricity fluctuates as with petrol, but a full recharge in an I-Pace will cost between R270 and R315 — about one-third of the price of filling up a similarly-sized diesel SUV.

Addressing fears that EVs might strain our already-unstable electricity network, Jaguar Land Rover SA’s electrification team leader Brian Hastie quoted a CSIR study which showed that it would have little effect. In a simulated impact of EV charging on the Ekurhuleni grid, with the assumption that 25% of all cars were EVs, the study showed minimal change to the load profile mainly because most cars would be charged overnight when other electrical appliances are not in use.

In the same way that there was an initial buyer reluctance to premium diesel cars until they became more refined and mainstream, Hastie expects SA consumers to adopt EVs.

“The South African mind-set is that ‘it will come eventually’ but the age of EVs is upon us, says Hastie. “Ultimately EV uptake will be a necessity, so let’s get the EV curve going early.”