The 2023 Smarter Mobility Africa summit in review

04 October 2023 - 11:29
By Brenwin Naidu
(From left to right) Toyota’s Andrew Kirby, Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi, roads and transport MEC Kedibone Diale-Tlabela, Sasol's Fleetwood Grobler and Air Products SA’s Rob Richardson.
Image: Supplied (From left to right) Toyota’s Andrew Kirby, Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi, roads and transport MEC Kedibone Diale-Tlabela, Sasol's Fleetwood Grobler and Air Products SA’s Rob Richardson.

The 2023 Smarter Mobility Africa (SMA) summit took place at Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand this week.

We attended the opening on Monday with Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi and roads and transport MEC Kedibone Diale-Tlabela, among others.

Opening remarks came from Ben Pullen, group director of mobility for the Vuka Group, organiser of the event.

“Integrated smarter mobility is about pulling together different modes of transport, different technologies, solutions, apps and data,” said Pullen, adding he is proud of the impact SMA has made since inception in 2019.

Lesufi said attracting investment to the region is key, adding the backbone of the economy is the transport sector.

“We need to let go of the old and embrace the new. We want to be the first province to plant new ideas, we also want to be ready to invest in those ideas.”

One of the plans close to fruition is a high-speed rail connection between Johannesburg and Limpopo.

Diale-Tlabela echoed the importance of developing efficient rail systems. She also revealed the unveiling of a new number plate prototype for the province would take place in October.

According to Vuka, the event hosted 100 exhibitors, but it did not seem that many on the main floor of the venue. A colleague quipped that there appeared to be a greater number of coffee stations than displays.

The roster of panel discussions in the week looked impressive, however, with thought leaders and agenda setters from various entities, such as the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, GridCars, University of Cape Town, Accenture, Norwegian EV Association and uYilo e-Mobility, among others.

Representatives from the motor industry included Toyota South Africa CEO Andrew Kirby, Nissan’s GM for quality assurance in manufacturing Chantelle Nkosi, Naamsa CEO Mikel Mabasa, Mark Raine, head of marketing, sales and co-CEO at Mercedes-Benz South Africa, and Ford South Africa president Neale Hill. Toyota had a special demonstration in partnership with Sasol and Air Products. It gave a live show of the refuelling process of its Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicle.

The preview showcased the future prospect of an “on-road hydrogen mobility system” which Sasol has been working on for the past two years.

Sasol CEO Fleetwood Grobler said the firm is confident hydrogen is key to decarbonisation.

“The fate of our planet and the legacy we leave for future generations are at a crossroads. Safeguarding our future for a better world will require a deliberate and collaborative effort.”

The strategic intent of Sasol is to transition in a gradual, phased approach with a future vision that sees green hydrogen and biogenic sources of carbon playing a central role.

“Today [Monday] is about showcasing a solution we believe in,” said Grobler.

Priscillah Mabelane, Sasol’s executive vice-president, energy business, said the potential of the envisaged hydrogen transport system was bolstered by the company’s first green hydrogen production at its Sasolburg operations. A 3MW solar farm was established, to be supplemented by 69MW of renewable energy from a wind farm in the Eastern Cape in 2024.

Air Products was established in the US 80 years ago, while its South African operation was set up in 1969.

“Globally we have been conducting safe hydrogen fuelling for more than 25 years and during that time have conducted an average of 1.5-million hydrogen fuelling operations a year. Air Products has more than 250 hydrogen fuelling sites in 20 countries and holds 50 patents for hydrogen fuelling,” said MD Rob Richardson.

Toyota has been involved in the research, development and production of hydrogen-powered vehicles since 1992. The Toyota Mirai second generation model is not officially on sale in South Africa, with local units reserved for trial purposes.

“The challenge is how to commercialise a hydrogen mobility ecosystem in South Africa because it is a costly undertaking,” said Toyota SA CEO Andrew Kirby. “It needs more partners, investors and support from the government.”

Kirby said an initial focus for hydrogen refuelling infrastructure will be directed to high commercial traffic areas, such as the Johannesburg and Tshwane regions.

“Longer term, the focus will be on expanding the hydrogen ecosystem on major long-haul routes such as the N3 between Johannesburg and Durban and later into other African countries.

“Pricing of green hydrogen varies, but we know pricing is dependent on economies of scale.”