Jaco Van Der Merwe
Head of Motoring
4 minute read
30 Jan 2019
1:30 pm

Electric vehicles are taking time to become a norm in SA

Jaco Van Der Merwe

Fuel costs should decrease a lot but asking prices are a massive deterrent.

INTO THE FUTURE. Whether we like it or not, electric cars are here to stay. Picture: Jaco van der Merwe

Whether we like it or not the electric revolution of the car world is upon us and even though it’s reaching SA at a snail’s pace, it’s imminent impact is unavoidable.

Only two fully electric models are currently available locally – although 20 brands have already launched electric vehicles – which shows how far behind the rest of the world SA is and the country will eventually be forced into playing catch up when combustion engine cars become outnumbered in the global market.

According to Bloomberg, the sales of electric vehicles can reach 60 million by 2040, which will be 55% of all light-duty vehicles.

And the first signs of the revolution has already been seen overseas, with the Nissan Leaf the top selling in Norway last year.

The biggest stumbling block locally is the failure from government’s side to incentivise the importation of electric vehicles, making it costly for the consumer.

Even though charging and maintaining an electric vehicle should save motorists significantly – estimated to be two-thirds on fuel alone – the asking prices of electric offerings compared to similar vehicles with combustion engines are a massive deterrent.

The same applies for hybrids, of which there are already a number available locally. Consumption might be more cost effective, but a hybrid is still more expensive than a petrol or diesel-powered car.

“At the moment 25% import tax is charged on electric vehicles,” says Brian Hastie, network development director for Jaguar Land Rover South Africa and also the company’s electrification team leader.

“The consumer should be given incentives for buying an electric vehicle, but marketing and import are more expensive than in the case of normal cars. “We would like to see gradual growth and an organised rollout of these vehicles. The last thing we should be is unprepared when it suddenly becomes a necessity because then the consumer will be hit the hardest. “If the duties are relaxed, numbers will naturally increase and make up for initial loss. “It’s a case of making the government and the public more aware of electric vehicles.”

Jaguar Land Rover’s (JLR) first electric car, the I-Pace, being rolled out in SA in March, might not be the first of its kind because the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3 have been around for a while, but the support system the company is putting into place in anticipation of its arrival is breaking new ground.

JLR has teamed up with GridCars and a R30-million investment will see 82 public charging stations being built nationwide, covering all the major routes where Nissan and BMW will also be able to charge at, with Jaguar Land Rover costumers enjoying 25% discount through a card top up billing process.

According to Hastie, a case study using Ekurhuleni households has shown that increased demand for charging electric vehicles won’t add significant strain to the power grid, as most charging will be done at night when usage is at its overall lowest.

Janico Dannhauser, JLR product and pricing manager, says South Africans find themselves in a comfortable position as far as domestic overnight charging goes.

“We are in control of our own charging stations. In Seoul, for instance, people don’t even always park on the same block where they live overnight,” says Dannhauser.

“By charging overnight we have to change the way we think. “Currently we drive our cars until empty. Electric vehicles will require that you go from full to full.”

The biggest hurdles facing electric vehicles in South Africa.


Getting motorists to buy into the idea of driving electric vehicles will not happen overnight.

Apart from the obvious differences in how power is generated between electric vehicles and cars powered by combustion engines, there are also various things consumers will have to get their head around.

A big mindset shift is where and when to charge your car and the range on a charge as opposed to fuel stops.

Government incentives

Electric vehicles are slapped with huge tax and import duties, resulting in exorbitant prices being asked for the current electric vehicles on offer in SA.

This will continue to hamper growth in the segment.

Manufacturers remain upbeat that the government will catch a wake-up sooner rather than later, but at this stage there is nothing concrete to back up their optimism.

The longer the government takes, the further SA will fall behind world trends.


Electric vehicles need power to charge their batteries and although this sounds convenient in theory, charging stations, whether at home, the office or in a public place, still need to be installed and properly maintained for it to work seamlessly.

And in South Africa the possibility of load shedding could pose a real threat for all the role players.

Therefore, we definitely don’t need more than one different plug type – which is the case in Australia where manufacturers couldn’t agree on a universal plug.

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