Load-shedding won't hurt local electric vehicle sales

Read time 6min 40sec
The Jaguar I-Pace.
The Jaguar I-Pace.

Financially-constrained power utility Eskom's inconsistent electricity supply will not be a deterrent to the sale and operational use of electric vehicles (EV) in SA.

This was the word from car manufacturers, responding to ITWeb's questions about the impact of load-shedding on the local EV market.

SA has three brands of EVs, which rely heavily on consistent power supply: the BMW i3 and i8, the Nissan Leaf, and the recently launched Jaguar I-Pace.

With only about 1 000 EVs being sold locally since 2015, according to Eskom, the uptake rate is much slower than global counterparts, with concerns that energy constraints may hurt the market.

In February, SA was plunged into darkness when Eskom escalated its load-shedding schedule from stage two to stage four, after the state-owned power utility "lost functionality" in six of its generating units.

Eskom is saddled with R419 billion debt, with the government promising the power utility a R23 billion a year bailout over the next three years.

President Cyril Ramaphosa last month said the severe financial and operational challenges being experienced by Eskom are as a result of a number of factors, from state capture to poor maintenance of its power plants, exacerbated by spiralling diesel and maintenance costs.

While the power utility is promising to do its best to keep the lights on throughout winter, experts are not convinced, asserting Eskom may be forced to start planning for stage five and six load-shedding to avert national blackouts.

While EVs are a potential answer to the rising fuel prices and carbon emissions, their future success in the local market will be determined by factors such as reliable power supply, affordability and infrastructure.

Despite the power supply challenges, motoring experts and car manufacturers say the notion that load-shedding will having a negative impact on electric car sales in SA is based on "misinformation" and "pre-conceived perceptions".

Brian Hastie, Jaguar Land Rover network director, SA and Sub-Sahara Africa, explains: "The reality is that the vast majority of EV drivers are not impacted in any way by load-shedding, but correct charging habits and usage behaviour are important.

"Load-shedding has also not affected sales of the available stock of the Jaguar I-Pace and demand for the vehicle remains very strong. Jaguar Land Rover's challenge is to combat misinformation and educate the public regarding facts related to living with an EV.

"Load-shedding often occurs at night due to the lowest demand on the grid. EVs and plug-in hybrids are usually charged at night. In extreme circumstances where load-shedding does happen at night, it will be for a limited number of hours, allowing sufficient charging to take place during the balance of the night period."

In addition, all Jaguar Land Rover retailers throughout the country have charging stations and backup power supply, and therefore have not been operationally impacted by power supply volatility, he notes.

Research firm TrendForce predicts in its latest Global Automotive Market Decode for 1Q report that electric vehicle shipments will reach 5.15 million in 2019, representing year-on-year growth of 28%.

EVs and hybrid EVs will account for an estimated 30% of all vehicle sales by 2025, it adds.

This year, there will be over 20 new fully electric or upgraded fully electric models introduced in Europe, including Kia, Jaguar, Hyundai and VW.

Volvo has announced all its new vehicles launched from this year will have an electric or hybrid vehicle feature, marking the historic end of cars that only have an internal combustion engine.

The UK government has stipulated that 60% of all cars and small vans need to be electric vehicles by 2032 and completely carbon-free by 2035.

The Nissan Leaf.
The Nissan Leaf.


Independent motor vehicle expert and radio commentator Nico Smit believes that while the local EV market is lagging behind global counterparts, it will see moderate growth over the next two years.

"The SA electric vehicle market is not a big one, with limited offerings; it is probably not as exciting as other markets which have a wide variety of brands. With the newly launched Jaguar I-Pace, and other manufacturers expected to launch next year, like the Audi E-tron and the Mercedes Benz EQC, we can anticipate an uptake as more buyers become interested in owning an EV.

"But the growth will be slow; even by 2020, electric vehicles will make up a very small part of the overall vehicle market."

In terms of the intermittent power supply, Smit notes load-shedding will have as much impact on EVs as it does on a mobile phone.

"The electric vehicle is charged much like a mobile phone, typically at night when the owner goes to sleep. So even if there is load-shedding, it usually lasts a maximum of four hours and it shouldn't negatively impact on your mobile phone as you have the rest of the day to charge it.

"When you consider the 460km driving range of the I-Pace, most people don't even do 100km in one day and they can go for a few days without charging the car."

With most owners usually purchasing EVs as a second or third car, when it comes to long-distance driving, they often opt to take another car instead of the EV, he adds.

"But in cases where an EV is used for holidays and long-distance trips, this shouldn't be a problem as there are public charging stations along the major routes throughout SA and all EV dealerships have charging stations. In future, we will see public charging stations being built outside coffee shops and in more malls and filling stations," Smit points out.

Wonga Mesatywa, head of corporate affairs at Nissan Group Africa, comments there are more pressing issues facing the local EV market than load-shedding.

"Among the issues that affect the acceptance of EVs locally is the import tax and ensuring sufficient charging infrastructure throughout the country. In most countries, there is some form of government incentive or tax rebate to support the move to more environmentally-friendly vehicles.

"We are also working on the availability of charging points. As an EV owner, you should be able to travel around as you would, without having range anxiety."

BMW Group SA says it has sold more than 600 BMW i3 and i8 vehicles since 2015, and power supply will not be a hindrance to further sales.

Hailey Philander, group communications specialist: product communications at BMW Group SA, explains: "While we remain optimistic that the power supply crisis currently being experienced in SA will be resolved, we do, however, need to play our part in finding ways of taking pressure off the grid, and we are already able to offer affected customers solutions.

"With our ConnectedDrive app, a customer has the ability to constantly monitor the status of the car even when they are not in it. So, if the car is connected to a charger and there is a power cut, the app will be able to read this and the owner will be notified.

"However, when in a pinch, customers have access to BMW-On-Call, our 24-hour emergency customer technical services provider, who will transport the car on a flatbed to the nearest charging facility."

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