• Are you worried about South Africa's fuel security?
• A small battery car might be what you need.
• The Eleksa CityBug promises much, but there's are limitations to consider.
• For more motoring stories, go to Wheels24
With many South Africans pondering the country's fuel security future after recent events, the notion of an electric runabout has appeal. Don't expect legacy car companies to start supplying South Africans with cheap, compact, electric vehicles. This will not happen. The first wave of electric cars, which should start arriving in 2022, will all be very expensive.
It is a great irony of the electric car market strategy that most of the first-generation battery vehicles from established brands are heavy SUVs and crossovers instead of tiny city cars.
What are the alternatives? In South Africa, you might soon have an option on something relatively cheap that runs on home power. It is called the CityBug and marketed by Eleksa.
Cheap and small
Sourced from China, European distributors have managed to navigate strict regulations and get roadworthy certification for the CityBug in Germany and the UK. Eleksa believes that it will have the CityBug on sale, to potential South African customers, by September. Price? An estimated R200 000, which makes it by far the cheapest battery-powered car, you'll be able to buy in South Africa.
But is it really a car? That is the question.
The CityBug is tiny, only 2.96m long and 1.48m wide. Tellingly, it weighs 450kg, which is very light. Where things become complicated is the CityBug's performance - or rather, lack thereof. Its lithium battery pack is very small, rated at a scant 9kWh. You might think that is adequate for a vehicle that weighs only 450kg, but the driving limitations are significant.
There are a lot of things you can't do with it.
For starters, the CityBug has a top speed of only 60km/h. Forget about taking it on any highway to connect various suburbs around a South African city. Intertown travel won't be possible either unless you want to annoy other road users greatly. What is the point of this ultralight battery vehicle? If you want an all-weather suburban commuter vehicle or live in a small rural or coastal retirement town, it might have some merits, but R200 000 equates to many Uber credits…
Range? Eleksa claims a 100km range per charge, but add two passengers and the total vehicle mass increases by a third, which will very negatively impact its range due to that low-density 9kWh battery pack. But what about its use as a short-distance delivery vehicle? Considering the hilliness of Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, any marginally loaded CityBug would have a very modest range.
Aside from its speed limitations, the issue is safety. There is no crash safety rating. Although the CityBug is designed to be used in a low-speed urban environment, the South African context does not prevent a double-cab, taxi or truck, from hitting you in a suburb or small town.