SA must capitalise on electric vehicles

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The 2021 Honda Fitis like the good old-fashioned Jazz with an electric twist.
The 2021 Honda Fitis like the good old-fashioned Jazz with an electric twist.

BUSINESS


With environmental concerns increasing, SA motorists are urged to go green on the road.

The South African vehicle and components manufacturing industry will have to switch to electric vehicles (EVs) more quickly, as Europe, a giant export market, is rapidly phasing out petrol and diesel cars.

Sales of EVs in the EU are increasing so rapidly that, by 2030, they will account for about 40% of all new vehicle sales there, according to the recent green paper on the future production of EVs in South Africa.

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According to the Automobile Industry Export Council (AIEC), about 73% of vehicles and components manufactured and exported by South Africa last year went to the EU. In value, this accounted for about 60% of total exports by the automotive industry.

Norman Lamprecht, author of the AIEC’s 2021 report, says it is clear that developments in Europe, like stricter environmental requirements, have had a major effect on the local vehicle industry. For example, the UK – the leading exporting country for South Africa-produced vehicles since 2014 – will ban sales of new cars with internal combustion engines by 2030.

This is five years earlier than originally planned and means the local vehicle manufacturing industry will have to accelerate the switch to EVs, he says.

Mikel Mabasa, CEO of the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of SA (Naamsa), says:

China and Europe together will be responsible for 72% of sales of all EVs by 2030, due to regulatory environmental requirements in those regions.

The department of trade, industry and competition says in the green paper that, to maintain its important export share in the EU, South Africa’s automotive manufacturing industry must keep up with technology for the production of electric and hybrid vehicles (so-called “new energy vehicles”).

Because technological advances can quickly narrow the price gap between EVs and vehicles with internal combustion engines, support for industry in the field needs to be explored, according to the green paper.

Wheels24 reports that, due to the cost of batteries for EVs and high import tax, among other things, one pays at least R680 000 for a full EV. A hybrid vehicle like a Honda Fit Hybrid costs about R470 000.

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According to the green paper, South Africa could benefit from the use of fuel cell technology for new energy vehicles based on platinum group metals. This country has large deposits of the raw materials and the private sector will be encouraged to invest in such technology.

Last year, 3.24 million new energy vehicles were sold worldwide – 43% more than in 2019. Sales of electric passenger cars are expected to surpass those of passenger cars with internal combustion engines by 2038, but this could happen sooner if stricter environmental regulations on vehicle emissions are introduced more quickly, if technological advances lead to lower prices and if consumers adjust their buying patterns, states the green paper.

Peter Leon, partner and Africa head at law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, and his colleagues, Ernst Müller and Giorgia Silvaggi, wrote in an article on the firm’s website that South Africa has many deposits of metals used in batteries for EVs, such as manganese, cobalt, iron ore, nickel, titanium and zinc. Although manufacturers of EV batteries will still have to import additional copper, the local availability of manganese, iron ore and nickel will reduce the sector’s overall import costs and boost local manufacturing.

With government assistance, local producers of the minerals can start processing plants for converting raw materials for use in the batteries and create numerous jobs for skilled workers, the article stated.

According to the department of trade, industry and competition’s green paper:

Only 92 EVs and 232 hybrid vehicles were sold in South Africa last year. This is 0.02% of the total of 380 206 vehicles sold in the local market.

The numbers could rise significantly if government, corporate fleet companies and vehicle rental companies switch to EVs. Together, these groups account for about 15% of total new vehicle purchases in the country.

In a report last year compiled on behalf of the department and Naamsa, nonprofit organisation Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies (Tips) pointed out that the market’s acceptance of electric and alternative vehicles depends on costs and whether certain obstacles can be cleared.

Motorists are anxious about how far an electric car can take them before the battery needs to be recharged, as well as the risk of becoming stranded due to a lack of recharging facilities. According to Tips, this fear stems largely from ignorance about EVs.

Multinational research and consulting firm Ipsos found that the average American drives about 284km in a normal working week. With the current distance that can be covered with a full battery, a motorist therefore only needs to recharge their battery once a week – similar to filling one’s fuel tank once a week, wrote Tips. It added that, in Europe, about 80% of homeowners recharge their EVs at home overnight. Internationally, less than 5% of EV recharging takes place at public recharging points.

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Tips believes that the availability of public recharging stations is not currently a major obstacle in South Africa. The country has 258 such stations, which translates to five plug-in EVs per public recharging point on South African roads.

A map in the Tips report showed various recharging stations in the Western and southern Cape, in parts of the Eastern Cape such as Gqeberha and East London, in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, on main routes between the Western Cape and Gauteng, between Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, and a few points in Mbombela and Polokwane.

The green paper says existing recharging infrastructure should be expanded as an incentive for motorists to switch to EVs.

Carel Snyman, an expert on cleaner mobility and affiliated with the South African National Energy Development Institute (Sanedi), says:

My last petrol vehicle in the early nineties was a Toyota Corolla GLi with a fuel consumption of about 8 litres/100 km. This means the energy consumption was 272 MJ/100 km.

I now drive the electric BMW i3 (2019) with electricity consumption of 11.5 kWh/100 km (41.4 MJ/100 km). The battery stores 35 kWh of energy, which in theory is enough energy to drive 300 km, but not in practice. To extend battery life, try to avoid the battery discharging to below 15% and not being charged above 80% for long periods of time.

Before the BMW i3 I drove a Nissan Leaf. The average electricity consumption was 12.5 kWh/100 km. A family member now uses the Leaf and the car has travelled almost 100 000 km with the original battery. The battery has probably lost about 20% of its capacity.

The petrol vehicle uses an internal combustion engine and needs energy from petrol. The petrol is combusted inside the engine. A spark plug ignites the mixture of petrol and air. The resulting explosion in the combustion chamber causes high pressure in the engine and this causes movement which drives the wheels with the aid of a gearbox. There are many moving parts, which require lubrication and maintenance. The combustion process causes a lot of heat and therefore the petrol vehicle needs a cooling system. Furthermore, gases that should not be inhaled are produced. These are released into the atmosphere through the exhaust pipe.

If we look at the energy required for the purpose for which the vehicle is used, the picture looks bad. During use in the city, 64% of the petrol energy is converted into heat and only 15% of the energy is converted into kilometres. In the process of motion, therefore, 85% of the energy is wasted.

It’s like buying five burgers and eating only one. Remember, you paid for 100%, but only 15% is used to turn the wheels. Most of the energy is used to produce heat.

The electric vehicle uses an electric motor similar to the motor of a refrigerator.

The same motor is used to stop the vehicle while the kinetic energy is used to charge the battery. This saves even more energy and wear on brakes. (I have never replaced brake pads, and maintenance so far has been limited to inspection. It appears that the vehicle needs one every two years.)

Modern electric motors lose as little as 15% energy in the process of turning the wheels. Thanks to the characteristics of the electric motor (full torque available almost immediately and high revs), no gear changing is required. Heat generation is low and a much smaller radiator can be used.

There are no exhaust fumes. Even if you use Eskom coal electricity to charge the battery, the gases produced by the power station (outside the city) are still less than the exhaust gases of the petrol vehicle (inside the city).

It is also possible for you to produce your own energy with solar panels, with which you can recharge your vehicle’s battery, and of course also supply your home. The combined investment makes more sense.


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