CAR SPOTLIGHT: Electric car dreams

The Nissan Leaf comes with a choice of two battery packs. Picture: Calvin Fisher
The Nissan Leaf comes with a choice of two battery packs. Picture: Calvin Fisher

After test-driving the Nissan Leaf on a two-day road trip from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town, Justus Visagie shares his insights on the electric car.

The Nissan Leaf (second generation) has been available in some countries since last year, but Nissan is putting it on sale in South Africa only next year.

This is partly because of the government’s steep import duties on electric cars, making them more expensive than they ought to be.

The new Leaf will be available with a choice of two battery packs: a 40 kilowatt hour and a 62kWh. In the same way that a bigger battery gives your cellphone more usage time, a bigger EV battery gives a longer range. The 40kWh Leaf can do about 250km before the battery is depleted; the 62kWh Leaf will do about 375km.

But what about charging infrastructure? Surely there aren’t enough charging posts in South Africa? Well, that’s why Generation.e organised the #EVRTAfrica, to show long-distance EV travel is possible, albeit with limitations.

Do the maths: If your Leaf can do 250km on a charge, you’ll have to recharge it four times to make the 760km trip from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town.

It wasn’t hard, though, since Jeffreys Bay, Knysna, George, Swellendam and Caledon each have high-speed chargers. The same goes for South Africa’s other major routes, such as linking Jozi to Durban with high-speed chargers. The less glamorous aspect of the journey is the hour (roughly) you’ll spend per charge if Eskom isn’t offline.

So, if EV transport is this challenging, why bother? Because an EV can give you 100km from R18’s worth of electricity; most cars struggle to get 100km from R100’s worth of petrol.

They might be hamstrung for now, but global demand and innovation will drive EV prices down, reduce charging times and increase range.

For now, the best job for an EV is that of a city commuter. You can find a used BMW i3 EV in good nick for about R380 000 and less for a generation-one Leaf.

If money’s no object, buy the ballistic new Jaguar I-Pace for about R1.7m.

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