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The big electric vehicle debate: plug in or fill up?

Are you a fan of EVs?

Audi says it's fully committed to EVs in SA. The Audi e-tron. Supplied

By Garth Johnstone

The hot talk among motoring enthusiasts in SA, and which I expect will continue to inspire fierce debate (or is that road rage?) for the rest of the decade, is how will SA react to and take up the move to electrical (EVs), hybrids and new generation vehicles.

Not only are Saffers sceptical about the timeframe for motorists in this country to jump on to the environmentally-friendly vehicle train, but many are not appreciative of all the gadgets, gizmos and tech now being crammed into cars. Among concerns are security of data and privacy. On the other hand, some just can’t get enough of the fancy innovations and loudly applaud moves towards tech-savvy and greener cars.

Jaguar is one of the elite brands to bring hybrids into the South African market.

The logistics of the move to greener, more digitally empowered cars are immense, as is the cost for companies, but particularly in Asia, the US and Europe they are all leaping aboard to comply with legislation and take advantage of commercial opportunities. It’s a huge risk but one giants such as General Motors, Volkswagen, Ford, Toyota, GWM, BMW and Jaguar (Tata-owned) have no qualms about… the future is electric they believe. And then there is Tesla…

The question is: Just how eager will SA drivers be to purchase EVs and hybrids?
Potential drawbacks and barriers to uptake:
Lack of charging stations (for now);
Range of vehicles for long trips and commutes;
Extra purchase costs for EVs;
South Africans just love their petrol/diesel vehicles;
Lurking threat of load-shedding

Where do you stand in the argument?

The Tesla Model 3, a huge seller in a number of major markets around the world. It hasn’t arrived in SA yet.

Sascha Sauer, MD of Audi South Africa, said Audi was not only fully committed by bringing in a range of electric vehicles under the e-tron name plate within the first quarter of 2022, but is also excited about “capturing imaginations and committed to changing customer perceptions towards electric vehicles in general”.

“A question regularly encountered is about the perceived impact of the instability within our state-supplied power supply. While certainly inconvenient and, at times, frustrating, the impact of a power interruption event can be largely negated via planning and preparedness, much like managing the charging of a mobile phone.

Top-up pattern

“While South Africa’s evolving public charging infrastructure already includes more than 300 universally configurable public stations – soon to be supplemented with high-speed options at 10 Audi Dealerships around the country – global research suggests most electric vehicle owners have adopted a pattern of ‘top-up’, overnight home charging behaviour.”

There are other initiatives planned to change perceptions, such as home visits and consultations, which would include advising clients on optimum power generation, constant improvements in range of vehicles, plus shorter charging times on the way

Are you a fan of the tech and dinky instrumentation in classics like the GTI?

Sauer noted that South Africans are becoming increasingly digital-wise and are already well versed in the daily routines of giving devices their nightly charge.

“… the idea of a ‘top up charge’ to an electric vehicle each night can easily form part of our daily routine.”

Consumers’ attitudes

A recent article on TimesLIVE, which aired the findings of a survey conducted by AutoTrader and discussed by the company’s CEO George Mienie at the 2021 Smarter Mobility Africa Summit, expressed SA consumers’ attitudes towards EVs and hybrids.

The 2021 South African EV Buyers Survey was conducted by AutoTrader in partnership with Smarter Mobility Africa.

“South African shoppers are actively looking for opportunities to buy electric vehicles, though the major challenge is still the initial purchase price. According to AutoTrader’s data, there has been a 210% increase in searches for available EVs in South Africa,” Mienie revealed.

Volvo recently announced plans to phase out plastics and leather in cars by 2030, in addition to moving away from petrol and diesel cars.

This was echoed by the number of respondents stating they were likely or very likely to consider purchasing an electric vehicle in the future, which increased to 70% in 2021.

Cost remains one of the chief barriers to broader adoption, with the survey indicating such vehicles are still out of reach of about two-thirds of consumers. There was, perhaps surprisingly, an appetite for used EVs, if the price was right.

Charging infrastructure

The perceived lack of charging infrastructure was again the most cited disadvantage of EV ownership, though the percentage fell two points from 2020’s figure to 59% in 2021, just ahead of charging time and initial cost of purchase (55%) in third.

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Range anxiety was less of a concern among motorists than expected, with 26% listing this as a serious concern. Load-shedding and a lack of charging options contributed as a drawback for some consumers.

Load-shedding remains a concern for some.

The general feeling among many motorists remains scepticism, while I imagine at the top end of the market, for those who have plenty hard cash, there is more enthusiasm and a more open-minded, even fatalistic approach.

In the working and middle classes, where decisions on the purchase of a vehicle can have serious financial ramifications, much more head scratching and debate will be going on. And then you have the petrol heads, those who just love to drive cars, hear the roar and feel the mechanics shifting and engaging beneath their feet.

As the corporates throw the dough at electric, more environmentally-friendly cars, these tar terrorists, off-roaders, racer boys (and gals) and bakkie lovers may prove the hardest group of all to convince.

I’m looking forward to seeing how it all pans out a few years down the (electric?) road.

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