South Africa is set for big growth in electric vehicle (EV) adoption as more manufacturers bring models into the country, charging infrastructure expands, and international markets demand electric vehicles from local manufacturing plants.

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This is the view of Greg Blandford, director of energy and e-mobility at sustainable energy company Rubicon Group.

The sales figures for electric vehicles in South Africa have been dismal when compared to petrol and diesel vehicles. Of the nearly 917,000 vehicles sold in South Africa in 2019 and 2020, only 246 were electric vehicles.

However, there appears to be much greater interest in EVs among local car buyers this year.

Volvo sold out its initial allocation of 15 Volvo XC40 P8 Recharge units just four days after it launched in South Africa in mid-May. That equates to around 10% of the total EVs sold in the more the normal year of 2019.

Recent research from automotive classifieds site Auto Trader also showed that 68.31% of South Africans were likely to purchase an electric vehicle in the future.

In addition, over 285,000 Auto Trader searches were conducted for used electric vehicles in the first six months of 2021, an increase of over 64% from the period before.

The electric Volkswagen ID.4 is slated for launch in South Africa in 2022.

Rubicon has partnered with Audi to install at least eight of its electric charging stations in South Africa in anticipation of the company’s e-Tron SUV launching locally in the first quarter of 2022.

Audi will become the seventh major brand to bring fully-electric vehicles to the country, following Nissan, BMW, Jaguar-Land Rover, Mini, Porsche, and Volvo.

Ford, Fiat, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen are also launching electric vehicles in South Africa in the next few years.

Rubicon is perhaps better known as the official distributor of the Powerwall and Wall Connector from EV heavyweight Tesla.

The company also imported the first Tesla Model X to South Africa as part of a demonstration on e-mobility and Rubicon’s charging infrastructure.

Blandford said while he believes the company will bring its EVs to the country, this should only be in about three or four years’ time.

Tesla Model X imported by Rubicon

Blandford told MyBroadband one of the biggest stumbling blocks for increased adoption of electric vehicles in South Africa is sufficient electric charging infrastructure.

“The major fuel groups in the country are already looking at deploying EV charging infrastructure in their forecourts,” he said.

Although there were about 900 electric chargers in the country at the moment, comprising both slower AC and fast DC chargers, Eskom’s stability has many people questioning their feasibility.

“The tricky part is the charging infrastructure for city environments, for DC chargers specifically, that is going to put the most strain on our grid,” Blandford said.

This could be addressed by adding batteries for energy storage and solar for power generation at these charging stations.

Rubicon is proponents of Tesla Supercharger stations and Megapack batteries for energy storage.

Blandford echoed warnings from industry experts that South Africa’s local vehicle manufacturing industry is going to suffer if it did not adapt its production facilities to build EVs.

South Africa’s vehicle export market is worth around R150 billion per year, but these currently consist only of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.

Numerous countries have committed to reducing petrol and diesel cars on their roads in the next decade.

Major vehicle manufacturers have also set aggressive goals for electric vehicle production and sales, including:

  • Daimler – 50% of car sales full-electric by 2030
  • General Motors – No new polluting vehicles by 2035
  • Volvo – All new cars fully electric by 2030
  • Toyota – 70% of sales hybrid, 10% plug-in hybrid, 10% hydrogen by 2025
  • Stellantis – 70% fully-electric or hybrid sales by 2030
  • Volkswagen – 50% of vehicle sales electric by 2030

Blandford said the country was going to have to scramble to adapt.

“The rest of the world is not interested in ICE vehicles anymore, they want electric vehicles.”

Volkswagen factory in Uitenhage, Eastern Cape

Blandford proposed several ways government could stimulate EV growth, including placing a temporary moratorium on import and luxury taxes on EVs.

For the first 10,000 vehicles, Blandford said the government could completely scrap taxes.

For every subsequent 10,000 vehicles, they can then increase it incrementally back up to the current duty rate of 18%.

“That will kick start the industry. Then it creates a whole new business cycle for PV, energy storage, and it will create jobs very quickly,” Blandford stated.

Blandford said government could look at other countries for solutions on how to tax electric vehicles to address the gap left by the lack of General Fuel Levies and Road Accident Fund Levies it typically collected from fuel purchases.

Current options include taxing per kilometre driven or by the weight of the vehicle.


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