More South Africans see merits of electric vehicles

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Consumer appetite for electric vehicles (EVs) is on the increase, with 72% of surveyed South Africans saying they are planning to buy an EV within the next five years.

This is according to the 2021 Electric Vehicle Buyers Survey, conducted by SA’s biggest automotive online marketplace AutoTrader, in partnership with e-mobility services company Smarter Mobility Africa.

The research results, released yesterday during the Smarter Mobility Africa 2021 conference, are based on over 2 800 online responses across AutoTrader touch points between August and September 2021. The report provides insights into consumer perception, expectation, purchase intent, awareness and trust of EVs in SA.

According to the report, the reality is that globally and within the borders of SA, there is demand for EVs, as a result of environmental concerns, the requirement for greener mobility and impending global regulations that will impact the local automotive market.

However, some factors still cause South Africans to hesitate when considering investing in the emerging vehicle trend.

AutoTrader SA CEO George Mienie said local consumers are increasingly showing stronger interest in EVs, with a spike in online searches on the AutoTrader website − combined with the survey results – indicating some locals are already planning to buy EVs in the near future.

“While this has been an international trend for some time, I am pleased to report that AutoTrader SA’s data reveals the EV appetite has increased over the past year. South African shoppers are actively looking for opportunities to purchase EVs – with the major challenge still being their relatively high purchase prices.

“Search behaviour is far higher than ever before; we’ve seen a 211% growth in searches for EVs in SA. Similarly, EV consumer advert views are up 234% year-on-year, while EV enquiries are up 44%. In 2020, we had 92 new EVs sold in this country. I anticipate that this number will grow in 2022,” noted Mienie.

While the majority of surveyed consumers want an EV that costs under R500 000, he pointed out that South Africans may not be as deterred by the price tag of an EV as many would like to believe.

Respondents were asked if they knew that the running costs for an EV were lower than a petrol / diesel vehicle, would they be willing to pay more upfront? Around 68.2% stated they would be willing to pay more for an EV upfront.

Lower maintenance costs, added features, perceived reliability and advanced technology are among the factors leading to consumers willing to pay a premium on EVs, he added.

“The reality is that it is cheaper to drive an electric car from a fuel cost point of view, and when taking into account maintenance costs – an EV will also be very low compared to a combustion engine vehicle.”

He pointed out that in SA, refuelling an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle costs about R1 100.40 (average 60-litres of 95 octane in GP at R18.34p/l). On average, a 60-litre tank of ICE fuel will take a vehicle about 600km (10-litres per 100km).

“However, a fully-charged Jaguar I-PACE (with a 90kWh battery) will take you 400km (on an urban cycle with AC on) and costs approximately R2.30 per kWh to charge in SA, bringing a full charge to R207.”

Other advantages of driving an EV as cited in the report were: 78% of respondents said reduced carbon emissions was the biggest advantage of owning an electric car; air pollution was the second biggest advantage mentioned by respondents (61%) followed by vehicle styling (41%).

EV penetration in the form of ownership and driving opportunities set the stage for understanding what portion of car shoppers were exposed to the benefits and potential limitations of electric mobility in SA.

The report further found that over 80% of surveyed South Africans have never been in an EV before, highlighting the need for more consumer education, which would in turn dispel misconceptions and possibly contribute to more consumer adoption.

“One of the best ways to increase EV adoption in SA is to have drivers experience them first-hand. And that’s not happening.”

First mover expense

One of the largest barriers to entry of any new technology into any market is the high costs of production in the early stages of the technology’s lifecycle due to initial research and development costs, notes AutoTrader.

EVs in SA have the added disadvantage of incurring substantial taxes (ICE imports 18% versus EV imports 25%) which has aided in driving the cost of an EV to more than double that of the average price of a new ICE vehicle in SA (of a similar make / model).

In terms of other barriers, 25.7% of respondents found “range anxiety” to be a major disadvantage. In previous years, this had been a larger concern. In addition, the number of people who view the charging infrastructure for EVs as the most noted disadvantage dropped from 61% in 2020 to 59% in 2021, a small decline but in the right direction.

“The survey shows that people are better understanding the advantages around EVs when it comes to performance, styling, being easier to drive,” said Ben Pullen, founder and chairman of Smarter Mobility Africa, also speaking at the event.

“This is important because in my view, aside from the cost factor, performance and style is what drives the sale of a car. Another positive change is that charging seems to be viewed as less of a disadvantage. This may be due to increased education and understanding of what it’s like to drive an electric vehicle.”

By June 2021, about 1 400 plug-in EVs had been sold in SA − 0.014% of the total car fleet of 10 million vehicles globally − an indication the country is severely lagging behind counterparts, notes the report.

SA also only has five EV models for sale: Porsche Taycan, Jaguar I-PACE, BMW i3, Mini SE and Volvo XC40 P8 Recharge.

In the rest of the world, things are moving rapidly towards electric, with EV sales growing at around 30% to 40% per year, notes the report.

To make EVs more accessible to SA’s general motoring public, the report recommends a few outcomes will need to be met:

• Increase the variety of available EVs – some of which are lower cost vehicles.

• Technology innovation, particularly battery technology.

• Local manufacturing and ecosystem collaboration – more original equipment manufacturers producing parts locally.

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