Electric safari vehicles that are quieter and more environmentally friendly could soon be seen in South Africa’s game parks.
The safari vehicles are the work of Kenyan-Swedish startup Opibus, which offers electric conversion of popular off-road vehicles like the Toyota Land Cruiser and Land Rover Defender for game reserves.
These vehicles typically use diesel engines, which are loud and emit fumes that may irritate animals and scare them off before tourists can get a good view.
Since its establishment in 2017, Opibus has converted ten vehicles that are now used in Kenyan game reserves.
The company uses a standardised conversion system through which it replaces the combustion engine with an electric powertrain and lithium-ion battery, and removes the 5-speed gearbox.
The high and low-range 4-wheel drive and differential lock are retained, while a PMSM motor is attached to the transfer case.
It also fits the vehicle with a 7-inch infotainment system for monitoring range and other performance metrics.
The electric powertrain developed by Opibus specifically for off-road vehicles provides 120kW power with 600Nm motor torque.
It can reach speeds of up to 80km/h — more than enough for game drives.
Battery capacities are available in 38kWh or 58kWh, providing respective ranges of 90km or 140km on tar roads, or 65km and 100km off-road.
While this might seem like low numbers when compared to the likes of Tesla, it should be noted that a typical two or three-hour game drive rarely exceeds 100km.
The battery charges at 6.6kW, meaning a full charge takes between 5 to 7 hours.
Prices for converting an off-road vehicle start at $39,900 (R594,900), which also includes a 6.6kW AC charger.
In addition to running cleaner and quieter, Opibus claims conversion cuts the initial investment in an electric car in half and reduces the running cost associated with fuel-based vehicles over the long term.
“Without the dependency on fuel, our electric vehicles can either be charged by a solar system or directly from grid electricity, eliminating the need to transport fuel to your operation and reducing the cost per kilometre.
“The electric powertrain also needs far less servicing, lubrication or maintenance than a traditional combustion engine, ensuring uptime is maximised and cost kept to a minimum.”
Opibus also develops solar-powered infrastructure and chargers that are deployed in camps to provide power that may be used to recharge the vehicles.
Although Opibus currently only offers its electric conversions in Kenya, it plans to increase its presence in Africa and worldwide over the next couple of years.
In response to a query from MyBroadband, an agent confirmed that South Africa was in its expansion plans.
However, there was currently no timeline for when this could happen.
The pre-order page states that it will be available in “Selected Countries” aside from Kenya from 2022.
Electric safari vehicles could be a boon to South Africa’s wildlife tourism industry.
Many of the open-top safari vehicles used in the country’s parks are modified Land Cruisers or Hilux bakkies, which also run on diesel or petrol.
Members of multiple forums of the country’s biggest game reserve, the Kruger National Park, have complained about how the noise of cars that remain idling at sightings disrupts the game viewing experience.
The images below provide more details about the electric conversion system that Opibus uses for off-road vehicles.