A lot of people generally look at it as a chicken and egg scenario — which one comes first? Electric Vehicles or the charging stations? Players who want to roll out charging infrastructure would want to see a critical mass of EVs before investing heavily in charging infrastructure, while on the other hand, range-anxious consumers would want the assurance of a charging network.

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Well, in South Africa, thanks to the hard work of several stakeholders such as BMW, Nissan, Jaguar, GridCars, evCrowdRoute (now called Breev), and BluePlug, among others, the charging side of things has grown significantly over the years. In fact, South Africa ranked fifth globally in the ratio of public electric vehicle (EV) chargers to electric vehicles in 2020. Only Korea, Chile, Mexico, Indonesia, and the Netherlands have more chargers per EV than SA, according to the IEA Global EV Outlook 2021 report released recently.

The public EVSE per EV ratio at the end of 2020 for the Netherlands was 0.22, meaning there were 2.2 public chargers per 10 EVs there, while the ratio for South Africa was close to 1.8 chargers per 10 EVs. This is much higher than the 1 EVSE per 10 vehicles target that the Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Directive (AFID), which is the key policy regulating the deployment of public electric EVSE in the European Union, had recommended that member states aim for 1 public charger per 10 EVs, a ratio of 0.1 in 2020.

South Africa’s ratio is also due to the fact that there is currently a low penetration of EVs in the country, with just close to 1000 fully electric vehicles registered in South Africa so far. Some of the countries with high penetration of EVs, such as Norway, had much lower EVSE to EV ratios, of around 0.03 as at the end of 2020. Potential EV buyers in South Africa have a pretty good public charging network to use and can make long road trips on the country’s main highways quite comfortably.

So what’s holding back the transition in South Africa? Well, the limited range of EVs available and the high sticker prices thanks to hefty import duties and taxes for EVs. While petrol and diesel vehicles from the EU have a customs duty of 18% in South Africa, for electric vehicles the duty is 25% in South Africa! Then there is the Ad Valorem Customs Excise Duties and VAT. A quick look at the vehicles and pricing of models available in South Africa shows that these vehicles are out of reach for the majority of car buyers.

ModelPrice (ZAR)Price (USD)
Mini Cooper SER 642 000$ 45 000
BMW i3 120 AhR 754 200$ 53 500
Volve Xc40 RechargeR 1 200 000$ 85 000
Jaguar i PaceR 1 942 600$ 137 815
Porsche Taycan Turbo SR 4 027 000$ 285 659

To really move the needle, we need more affordable models in a price range closer R300,000 ($21,000). ICE brands of Chinese OEMs such as Great Wall Motors have been well received in South Africa. The Haval range is quite popular and the new GWM P-Series Passenger Double Cab pickup truck has had some positive responses from the market. Cheaper Chinese BEV models could really help catalyze the EV market if they were made available in right-hand drive for this market. Small city EVs such as the BYD e2, the Changan Ben Ben eStar, and even the blockbuster Wuling Hongguang Mini EV for students and recent graduates could be a game-changer. These city EVs could play a big role in a popular segment of vehicles similar to the VW Polo, the Toyota Tazz, Starlet, Dutsun Go, and Renault Kwid type vehicles.

“Electric vehicle adoption remains key within automotive market developments while also decarbonising the transport sector,” says uYilo eMobility Programme Director Hiten Parmar. “It is clear that South Africa’s EV charging infrastructure has a good footprint for now based on the low volume of EVs in the country, however greater policy implementation is the next step to improve wider eMobility adoption.”


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