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How soon will we switch to electric vehicles in South Africa?

Our2Cents

Details on the realities of driving an electric vehicle in South Africa and whether owning one is the right lifestyle choice for you.

The frequency with which electric vehicles (EVs) are making it into recent headlines clearly signifies that the EV-revolution is well underway. Although South Africa is lagging and will continue to lag behind many developed countries, there are a respectable ±15 EV models on offer in South Africa at the moment – most of them released this year.

With most new EVs in South Africa being premium vehicles with hefty price tags, it begs the question of how soon South Africa will adopt EVs as a standard mode of transport.

In addition to price, what are the realities of driving an EV? We go into all the details below to help you decide whether owning an EV will be the right lifestyle choice for you, and what the timeline might be.

Is range still a valid concern?

Range anxiety: a term that’s become all too common if you own an EV or are considering buying one. The concern comes that you’ll be driving from Durban to Johannesburg and you run out of battery and get stuck without a charge.

Most EVs today have fairly good range, spanning between 200km and 500km. It all, of course, depends on the size of the battery in the car. For example, a Mini Cooper SE has a 32.64kWh battery, which can give you 270km, whereas the Jaguar I-Pace has a 90kWh battery that can take you as far as 470km.

GridCars have installed over 300 charging stations countrywide. 150 have been placed on major routes between provinces so you should be able to plan out your route and where you’ll need to recharge. Jaguar South Africa has partnered with GridCars to offer 25% off for all Jaguar Land Rover EV or PHEV owner’s electricity bills.

The ranges of EVs are expected to become better with time and charging stations around the country will become more prevalent. But overall, if you're wanting to do a long trip like Johannesburg to Cape Town, it seems unlikely that an EV will be a good idea. It is possible if you are willing to do the trip over a couple of days and plan it very carefully by plotting out places to charge your car and possibly hotels if your car needs a good couple of hours to do so.

What’s the effect on the environment?

We tend to associate EVs with being “green”. And it’s not wrong given that the message behind them usually links back to less carbon emissions from driving them. But it’s a bit different when it comes to charging them. According to WeForum, “...the “greenness” of an electric vehicle’s charge is dependent on how clean the power is in the grid it’s plugged into.” Unfortunately, at the moment 77% of South Africa’s power grid is run on coal.

The massive shift from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to EVs around the world means that more and more batteries used to power EVs will need to be manufactured with materials that have yet to be mined. And then there’s also the problem of recycling batteries that have reached the end of their lifespan.

“Anticipating a world dominated by electric vehicles, materials scientists are working on two big challenges. One is how to cut down on the metals in batteries that are scarce, expensive, or problematic because their mining carries harsh environmental and social costs. Another is to improve battery recycling, so that the valuable metals in spent car batteries can be efficiently reused.” – Davide Castelvecchi, Nature

At this point, it’s said that extracting materials from spent batteries is an expensive and resource-intensive process – possibly more so than actually mining the materials. Until more batteries die, recycling them seems to be on the back burner. “To make it work, recyclers are racing to come up with an efficient and planet-friendly way to reduce a used battery to its most valuable parts and then remake them into something new. The emerging EV industry needs a smart end-of-life process for batteries, alongside widespread charging stations, trained auto technicians, and a fortified power grid. It’s essential infrastructure, key to making our electrified future as green as possible.” – Gregory Barber, Aarian Marshall, Wired

What are the maintenance costs like?

You’re still going to be driving a car, and with that comes normal wear and tear and things like tyres, brakes, and windscreen wipers will still need to be replaced. Some things, like the oil changes, service and other “moving parts” of an ICE car, fall away with an EV. An EV has a less complex engine that has fewer parts to replace and service.

That’s not to say that there isn’t other standard maintenance that an EV will need. It’s best to ask the dealership what you can expect when it comes to maintenance.

How does the cost of an EV compare to an ICE vehicle?

The average cost of a new ICE vehicle in South Africa costs between R300,000 and R400,000, while most EVs on the market are upwards of R1-million. This is before you consider other costs like car insurance, service and warranty plans, fuel, or electricity to charge the car.

Here’s a look at the cost of a few EVs we insure at Naked and what the average premium would be:

With there being a global drive to reach net-zero emissions, EVs have become a major driver. That being said, until the costs come down significantly (and infrastructure challenges like the quality of roads and the supply of electricity are addressed) it seems South Africa has a long way to go in terms of moving away from ICE-populated roads. Whatever the timeline, if technology can be used to improve the lives of consumers, and have a positive impact on the environment, count us in, Naked will be on board.

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