An electric vehicle being charged. Picture: REUTERS
An electric vehicle being charged. Picture: REUTERS

The Covid-19 pandemic has delivered a windfall for a Stellenbosch-based electric vehicle maker.

MellowCab, the manufacturer of the Mellow Van, has been inundated with more than 100 new orders for its electric three-wheeled car. In just over two years, the start-up company has developed the last-mile delivery vehicle from a prototype to leasing up to 40 cars to local and international clients.

This week, CEO Neil du Preez said his company is pulling out all the stops to meet the increasing demand.

"The demand for delivery vehicles has exploded" because of the pandemic and lockdown, said Du Preez.

"We are getting many, many calls now. But it's a global phenomenon.

"In Europe, for example, the delivery business has grown by 400% during this time of coronavirus.

"We are focused on expanding. The demand has exploded over the last few months. We have also raised R70m in investment."

A few years ago, Du Preez and another of the co-founders, Ernst Aylward, got together and started working on an electric passenger vehicle, the Mellow Cab.

Proudly South African

"But that idea changed to a last-mile delivery vehicle," said Du Preez.

"We manufacture the entire vehicle in South Africa; everything you see is basically proudly South African. We have 10 engineers and 10 technicians.

"We are growing at a massive pace at the moment. Ernst is a mechanical engineer and I came from an environmental background. I was appalled by the massive pollution that I came across every day.

"We were lucky to have access to Stellenbosch University. We managed to secure a few very talented engineers."

Du Preez said the vehicle is 100% electric, low maintenance and travels for 90km per charge. The main plant is in Stellenbosch and the body plant is in Somerset West.

"The capacity of the vehicle has been optimised for last-mile deliveries," he said. "It's got about 2.4m³ of cargo space, which is ideal for most deliveries.

"Some clients do e-commerce deliveries and others do fast-food deliveries. In terms of cost efficiency, our vehicle runs at 15c per kilometre. That is extremely affordable to operate.

"It's an electric vehicle, so there is very little maintenance to be done on the vehicle because there are almost no moving parts. Every vehicle has a built-in charger."

He said his company partnered with an international delivery company, which is a major client, to produce the vehicle.

"We lease them to clients at the moment," he said.

"We have leased out 40 cars but we have to build another 100, at least, in the next few months. But the actual order is already at 160 cars.

Young team

"At the moment we have leased to companies in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia. Very soon we will have cars in Kenya as well. The products that our clients transport include post and parcel services.

"We also have e-commerce clients. They deliver everything from dog food to nappies and electronics."

Du Preez attributed his company's success to a young and enthusiastic workforce.

"I am the oldest, I just turned 40. A few others are in their 30s and the rest of them are in their 20s," he said.

"All of us have been involved in this project since start-up level, so we all live for this project and believe that it's going to make a difference for us and for South Africa."

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