As the icon of Nissan Intelligent Mobility, the electric Leaf is at the forefront of changing how cars are powered, driven and integrated into society.
As the icon of Nissan Intelligent Mobility, the electric Leaf is at the forefront of changing how cars are powered, driven and integrated into society.
Image: Supplied

Bruno Grippay is Regional Director: Africa-Middle East-India for Connected Cars and Intelligent Mobility coordination at Nissan Global.

It’s a newly formed portfolio that Nissan created to guide its pursuits in electric, autonomous, connected and sharing technologies. We interviewed the Dubai-based new incumbent when he was in SA for the annual 2019 Naamsa conference held at last weekend’s Festival of Motoring at Kyalami.

Bruno Grippay.
Bruno Grippay.
Image: Supplied

Phuti Mpyane: Let’s begin with Africa. How far are we towards meeting your portfolio’s aims?

Bruno Grippay: My feeling, today, is that Africa is behind, especially on connectivity. I see other markets push more than here. Amazingly the current benchmark in connectivity and EVs is not Europe but China.

These are not concept cars but actual vehicles you can buy. Amazingly, 70% of these cars are bought for their connectivity because owners talk to the car and the car talks to you. They also get information on what you are doing outside of them and share and use this data to create convenience and experiences. We are starting to see an emotional connection being formed with cars.

Also, a new Chinese brand of connected cars was introduced in India this past July and it’s quite a success because Indian customers are young, well connected and love this kind of engagement with cars. This is the potential I see for Africa with its equally young and connected generation who will adopt quickly and as a company we must quickly develop products before OEMs from China or elsewhere corner the market.

PM: Where are the major challenges in this quest, specifically in developing African economies?  

BG: I think first we need to bring in the skills for research and development of these technologies. It’s really important to educate people through bringing people who have the knowledge to impart at universities to stimulate locally developed solutions and technologies.

PM: How will you execute continent-aligned deliverables?

BG: We have started with implementation of a V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity), car-sharing services and electric vehicles programmes in countries such as Namibia, Kenya and Ghana. This is good because as we develop these single projects in various countries this will improve the awareness for new technologies.

PM: Have you had any luck in unlocking the reasons that many African governments, including SA, seemingly use to block many  automotive enhancements, like the refusal to lower import duties for electric vehicles (EVs)?

BG: Yes. The argument here is that they want to force the OEMs to produce locally. If you reduce the duty then your market gets flooded by OEMs and the risk is that localised automotive manufacturing doesn’t get developed. What other governments are doing is offering temporary import duty reductions on condition that we have already started with some level of localisation programmes.

PM: Why is Nissan not utilising its existing manufacturing facilities, like Rosslyn, to champion some of the points you mentioned, like developing and investing in the required skills sets through production of new age mobility like EVs and thereby, perhaps, avoiding the challenges with import duties?

BG: We are thinking about that. The thing is, these new models require huge sums of investment money to set up and before this can be done we have to ensure that we can identify an opportunity for sales volumes in EVs. But if government can introduce lower import duties, and if we can bring in say 10,000 units that we can sell at an affordable price, more customers will be had who will in turn create more awareness for these types of vehicles, thus creating more demand.      

PM: If we had to wake up tomorrow and the SA government has waved off import duties, is Nissan ready to offer EVs that are affordable for the majority of the SA population?

BG: Yes. Because all of the OEMs now virtually have ranges of EVs we are doing the same things. We are preparing several models; about 12 of them for global markets. Among them there are models that we call ‘affordable,’ like the Kwid EV currently sold in China. This could be a good model for Africa.

We also have the new e-POWER hybrid drive; essentially a system which introduces a gasoline engine that doesn’t power a car but its sole purpose being to recharge the batteries of an EV on the move. This is a solution we want to use to bridge the move between fossil fuels and electric drive.

But in the end the move to electric vehicles is not cut and dried. It will require new ways of doing things like we are seeing through newly-formed partnerships between OEMs and with other sectors. Multivehicle or transport ownership is one of the solutions. I see cities of the future creating zones where if you live outside the city, you may likely drive a conventionally powered car with no range anxiety.

You may have to leave it on the borders of the city and probably catch EV public transport or use a kind of scooter to your end destination.  

MOTORING PODCAST | 2019 SA Festival of Motoring doesn't live up to the hype

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