Electric vehicles (EVs) rapidly transform the global automotive landscape, offering a greener and more sustainable future. I had the honour of hosting a panel discussion with some of the leading Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) in South Africa at the Smarter Mobility Africa Summit event. In this insightful conversation, we delved into the critical aspect of supply chain disruption, particularly in the context of EVs.

The Importance of Supply Chain Stability

First, let’s address the fundamental question: How important is supply chain disruption, particularly with EVs in South Africa?

Neale  Hill, President of Ford Motor Company Africa, quickly emphasised its absolute importance. As we strive to bolster our production capacity and stability, considering domestic and export demands, we must draw from the lessons learned in other parts of the world. Neale provided a compelling example: When Ford launched the F-150 Lightning and the Mustang Mach-E in the U.S., they garnered over 200,000 orders in less than a week, long before the first vehicle rolled off the assembly line. However, they soon realised they had exceeded the available battery capacity for the units they needed to produce. This highlights the crucial need for supply chain stability to meet the soaring demand and support the South African auto industry’s competitiveness on the global stage.

Toyota’s Investment in Battery Technology

Andrew Kirby, President and CEO of Toyota South Africa Motors, shed light on Toyota’s substantial investments in battery technology and manufacturing. These investments span the entire battery production process, from verifying lithium sources to manufacturing cells. Toyota is also exploring solid-state batteries, with plans to commercialise them by 2028. 

Lessons from Mercedes-Benz: Holistic Growth and Charging Infrastructure

Mark Raine, Co-CEO and Executive Director of Mercedes Benz South Africa stressed the importance of holistic growth and stimulating consumer demand. Considering multiple factors, including charging infrastructure, is vital to succeed in the EV market. Mark emphasised that local consumer demand will be the driving force behind local production. Therefore, investing in charging infrastructure and making it accessible to all regions of South Africa is crucial. Mercedes has partnered with Grid Cars to invest R15 million in building chargers and ensuring that their dealer network is equipped to sell and service electric vehicles, fostering a nationwide approach.

BMW and UNICEF: Empowering South African Youth

Peter Van Binsbergen, CEO of BMW Group South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, shared an exciting initiative. BMW has partnered with UNICEF to enhance STEM education for South African school learners. The aim is to address youth unemployment by providing education and mentorship in digital, science and technology fields. This initiative, named “From Learning to Earning,” focuses on equipping young South Africans with the skills they need to excel in the automotive industry, including IT and software development roles.

Challenges in Charging Infrastructure Development

Winstone Jordaan, Managing Director of Grid Cars, tackled the challenges of setting up charging infrastructure in South Africa. While it’s essential to build infrastructure where it’s needed, it’s equally important to ensure that consumers perceive its need. Winstone highlighted the significance of having chargers along routes frequently travelled by EV drivers. He also emphasised the importance of creating a broad network of chargers initially spaced at 200-kilometre intervals and gradually reducing the distance between them to enhance convenience for EV drivers. Furthermore, logistics and negotiating with municipalities are pivotal in establishing sustainable charging infrastructure.

In conclusion, the panel discussion provided valuable insights into the complex world of supply chain disruption in South Africa’s burgeoning electric vehicle industry. The lessons shared by these automotive leaders underscore the importance of holistic growth, consumer education, and robust charging infrastructure development. As the South African automotive industry evolves, it’s evident that collaboration and innovation will be the driving forces behind its success in the electrifying journey ahead.