I recently took part in the Smarter Mobility Summit in partnership with Generation.e where I spoke about whether South Africa is ready for electric vehicles (EV) and I can safely say that we are almost there. Electric vehicles (EV) may soon overtake ICE vehicles – I know some may think that we are way behind in adopting electric vehicles (EV). What if I told you that’s not true. Let’s take a look at the rest of the world – EV adoption is moving faster than before and we as South Africa may face the risk of being left behind if we don’t act. I would like us to ponder a little on where we are and what potential already exists in South Africa.

South Africa is not a car designing nation

Firstly, South Africa is not a car designing nation, we are more of a car assembly nation and with that comes a few complexities. It means the chance of us manufacturing EV’s may be next to impossible especially now that the rest of the world has pegged a drop-dead date for ICE vehicles of 2035 for full EV adoption. As we are reliant on countries such as Europe & China for imported EV’s, this may mean the longer we take to adopt EV’s, the more expensive it will become in the long run.

The other challenge we stand to face is that once the EU puts in regulations to only accept EV’s, we won’t export new ICE vehicles anymore to other countries. This is a huge risk to our GDP.

A global ban in ICE is imminent, but South African car buyers want EV’s

Though there is going to be a global ban at some point on ICE vehicles, there’s good news! Currently the prospect of South African EV adoption is in a much better place in comparison to other first world countries. Let me share some insights with you from a survey we recently ran in partnership with Generation.e on AutoTrader. We received over 3 000 responses and we saw that there’s huge appetite for EV’s in South Africa:

When consumers were asked if they would like to buy an EV, the answer they gave was a resounding ….YES…as  68% of consumers said they would want to buy an EV. Surprisingly what we’ve been seeing as well from our data, is that South African car buyers also search for EV’s amongst makes and models e.g. Toyota Hilux that haven’t released EV’s! That is a sheer sign that once the opportunity opens up, car buyers will easily gravitate to these cars.

Did you know? 38% of respondents, aged 35 to 54 are also looking to buy an electric vehicle within the next three years? That is around the corner, what are we waiting for?

Three years will pass us by so quickly, we need to start asking ourselves as an industry and as consumers – are we ready for an EV future?

We have charging infrastructure

In the same survey, another burning concern that South African car buying consumers had was around the charging infrastructure. Little seems to be known about the fact that we actually have charging infrastructure between 100 and 200 kilometres of each other along all our major highways and within about 20 kilometres within our metro areas in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg. In South Africa we have one charging station for every four EV’s in comparison to one charging station for every 20 EV’s in first world countries. Evidently this shows that the charging infrastructure is already ahead of the adoption curve.

Consumer education is necessary

The infrastructure is there, car buyers are ready, what do we need to do? The obvious next step is to capitalise on the future. If you download the report from the EV buyer’s survey on: reports.autotrader.co.za, you’ll begin to see that the car buying consumer is already in the know, they are ready for change, now.

Though they are ready, we as an industry still have a massive job to do i.e. to educate the consumer. You’ll realise from the report that car buyers main concerns are about how long it should take to charge at home vs. public charging points – which consumers would like faster charging times whether at home or at a public point with 73.7% of respondents saying they would like their EV to take less than four hours to charge at home.

When it comes to public charging consumers 74% of consumers expect electric vehicles to fully charge in under one hour with 45% of consumers expecting EV’s to charge in less than 30 minutes in fast charging stations.

Right now, with the EV’s available, I don’t think that’s a possibility – proving again that consumer education is vital. I always use the analogy of the horse and carriage days, your the horse was ‘re-charged’ (fed) when it got home. Electric vehicles are no different. We should treat our EV’s like we do our cell phones, charge at any opportunity, then range anxiety won’t be an issue.

Government must intervene – import taxes on electric vehicles are too high

So, before we get all of the above issues ironed out, we first need the government to intervene – import taxes are way too high! The crux of the matter is that electric vehicles EV’s are too costly with the import taxes that exist today. We’re paying 18% to import an ICE vehicle in comparison to >25% import taxes on electric vehicles.

There are many ways that the government can reduce the burden on the consumer and ultimately stimulate electric vehicle (EV) adoption. In the Norway example, introduce incentives for electric vehicle (EV) buyers and penalising ICE vehicle buyers. If we don’t address these issues early, adoption of EV’s in South Africa will become more and more expensive as the adoption curve steepens. We saw in the survey that the biggest barrier to adoption is price, thus government involvement is crucial.

What is the ideal electric vehicle for South African car buyers?

The ideal electric vehicle for South African car buyers is not that far out of reach:

  • priced under R500,000
  • can do at least 500 kilometres on a full charge 
  • can charge at home in under 12 hours
  • can charge at public fast charging in under 30min

What electric vehicle(EV) brands do consumers trust the most?

What was really surprising from the survey, was which brands consumers assume have EV’s in the country today. BMW came in first (also the most searched for brand on AutoTrader), then followed closely by Jaguar, Nissan, Toyota, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and Tesla. Some consumers believe Tesla is actually in South Africa!

But when asked which brands they trust to manufacturer electric vehicles, BMW & Tesla came out on top!

The potential here is that if we manage to get the taxes reduced in South Africa, Elon Musk may just bring the Tesla electric vehicle to South Africa and we could see rapid adoption of EV’s in general.

Define your role in being part of the change

So what role can you play in being part of the change as an OEM, government official, car dealership or even a car buying consumer? It’s not up to one of us. It’s up to all of us.

I would suggest that you download the full report from the survey on reports.autotrader.co.za for more of these insights.