New cars set to give SA a volt jolt
Confirmation by Audi and Daimler-Benz that they will bring electric vehicles to SA for the first time in the next two years has set the scene for the country to join the global electric vehicle (EV) revolution.
Until now, only Nissan and BMW have brought fuel-less cars into the country, and installed sparse charging infrastructure.
At the same time, the vehicle industry in SA finally appears to be making progress in lobbying the government to support EV initiatives, including lowering duties on imports and providing incentives for local battery manufacture.
An automotive production and development programme (ADPD) was recently agreed on between the department of trade and industry and key local automotive stakeholders. It will be in effect from 2020 to 2035.
Hailey Philander, BMW Group product communication specialist, told Business Times: "Sustainable mobility thrives wherever there is an effective combination of three factors: customer demand, legislation and innovative partnerships. While there has, to this point, been very little government support for electric vehicles, we are confident that the ADPD will facilitate closer co-operation on discussions around EV imports and future infrastructure developments."
Trevor Hill, head of Audi SA, said it and other manufacturers had "taken an automotive industry stance in lobbying discussions with the South African government in supporting EV imports, manufacture and infrastructure rollout in our country".
The National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of SA has brought all manufacturers into this process through an Electric Vehicle Industry Association steering committee.
"While progress on this topic has seemed to be relatively slow, individual manufacturers have taken independent actions to progress the introduction of their respective EVs to meet certain business and product planning objectives," said Hill. "We are gearing our business towards the introduction of the Audi e-tron by the end of 2019."
The e-tron is a mid-sized sport utility vehicle with a 400km range on one charge.
Last month, at the unveiling in Cape Town of a futuristic concept car called the EQA, Mercedes-Benz SA co-CEO Johannes Fritz announced the EQC, an EV with a range of more than 450km, will arrive in SA in 2020.
He forecast that battery-electric models will account for 15%-25% of total unit sales by 2025.
"The big variation in forecasts is a result of uncertainty around both customer preferences and public infrastructure," he said. Nevertheless, marketing director Selvin Govender confirmed at the launch of the Concept EQA that Mercedes-Benz, along with other manufacturers, had seen talks with the government become more advanced recently.
"In previous years any talks were rejected, but it is becoming a bit more open with regard to subsidies provided by government."
Mike Whitfield, MD of Nissan SA, pointed out that the government had recently launched its Green Transport Strategy (GTS) through the department of transport.
"The EV ecosystem is an important part of this strategy and we are therefore optimistic that the discussions with government will pick up momentum and finalisation of the incentive programme will be realised," he told Business Times.
"Government and industry need a comprehensive plan to accelerate the adoption of EV mobility in SA. Without this, we believe we could be left behind in terms of adoption versus the rest of the key markets globally."
The Nissan LEAF is the world's best-selling EV, with more than 370,000 sold since its introduction in 2010. A few hundred have been sold in SA, while BMW has delivered more than 600 i3 electric and i8 hybrid (electric and fuel) vehicles to customers here since 2015. BMW sold more than 110,000 electrified vehicles globally this year.
"BMW currently has 57 ChargeNow charging stations in SA, with six shared with Nissan," said Philander.
"There are five DC fast chargers at dealerships nationwide that allow for charging of the i3 from 0% to 80% in around 45 minutes. We hope to add an additional 30 ChargeNow stations to the South African charging network by the end of 2019."
By 2025, she said, the BMW Group will have at least 25 electrified vehicles in its model line-up, 12 of which will be fully electric vehicles.
According to Hill, all Audi models will have an electrified drive from 2025 onward.
Nissan expects substantial growth in the EV market in the next five to 10 years but, said Whitfield, factors influencing uptake would include more consumer education programmes, competitor activity and regulatory certainty around incentives.
"With newer and longer-range battery technology being deployed, infrastructure and range anxiety are steadily becoming secondary concerns for EV consumption," he said.
Audi, too, expects EVs to become mainstream here in the next five to seven years.
Said Hill: "As more EVs are introduced by the different manufacturers and there is increased visibility of these products on the road, so will education around electric mobility and its benefits become more familiar with South Africans.
"This will indirectly result in a consumer mindset change to adopt these new vehicles as part of their mobility and lives.
"This in turn puts pressure on the South African government to introduce rebates and incentives into the market, which in turn makes EV ownership and adoption a conventional trend."