Local firm converts safari vehicles with Tesla batteries

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ESV converts safari vehicles from diesel to electric for around R780 000 per vehicle.
ESV converts safari vehicles from diesel to electric for around R780 000 per vehicle.

Local electric vehicle company Electric Safari Vehicles (ESV) is helping safari lodge operators flick the switch and convert their game-viewing vehicles from diesel to electric engines.

Established 18 months ago in Mbombela, Mpumalanga, ESV specialises in transforming normally aspirated vehicles into fully electric vehicles, using Tesla batteries, EV software and motors or engines that have a 95% efficiency rate.

Tesla batteries are considered by electric vehicle (EV) industry experts as being the best globally, largely because of their innovative battery technology, which is powered by a liquid-cooled thermal management system, high performance and a longer lifespan than an average battery, notes the company.

Steve Blatherwick, founder of ESV, told ITWeb that converting the power source in game-drive vehicles from combustion engines to electric energy helps organisations lower their carbon emissions and vehicle maintenance costs, gain increased efficiency, and provides a smoother and quieter game-viewing experience, compared to a rumbling diesel engine.

After successfully running a year-long pilot programme with two local safari lodges, converting their Land Rover and Toyota Land Cruiser models into electric vehicles, ESV is going commercial and is venturing into the mining and marine sectors.

“We are seeing more South African companies, such as game reserve operators, mining firms, and those specialising in logistics, wanting to electrify their vehicle fleet for various reasons. With the new Carbon Tax Act coming into effect, businesses are looking to shift towards lower carbon options or else they may be taxed more for their carbon emissions. Other reasons include improved efficiency and productivity, and not wanting the burden of paying for fuel and maintenance costs,” explains Blatherwick.

“The conversion process consists of these main steps: phase one includes taking out all the combustion parts of the vehicle (the motor, exhaust pipe, the petrol or diesel tank). Secondly, we build special adapters to be able to adapt an electric motor into the current drivetrain of the vehicle. Thirdly, we fit a Tesla battery pack into the vehicle; and finally, we put in the software that enables all the electric parts to work together. There are obviously other processes that happen in-between these phases.”

The Tesla batteries are imported from the US, UK and Europe. Converting an average safari vehicle doesn’t come cheap, costing around R780 000 per vehicle. However, ESV says its research shows businesses can expect a return on investment within five years. In addition, the conversion price still works out much less than having to buy a brand new electric vehicle, according to the company.

“The Tesla batteries are extremely powerful, superseding batteries of current local electric models such as the BMW and the Nissan. The liquid-cooling thermal management system is an important feature for African countries, which have much hotter temperatures than most parts of the world. It allows us to keep the batteries at a constant temperature, allowing a longer range of up to 300km on a single charge, and battery longevity,” adds Blatherwick.

Several vehicles are already on the cards and ESV is working on converting a fleet of safari vehicles for two lodge operators in SA and a few others in East African countries. Local operators include Timbavati Safari Lodge outside the Kruger National Park and the Londolozi Private Game Reserve, which has various camps throughout the country.

Blatherwick says he is in discussions with companies in the local marine sector, which are interested in electrifying their boats, as well as those in mining and logistics, which want to convert their vehicles to improve operations and gain a competitive-edge.

Around 1 000 EVs have been sold in SA to date – indicating a 167% increase since January 2018, according to However, the pace is much slower than in other parts of the globe.

“The local EV market is definitely gaining traction. When you look at all the companies that are coming up with innovations around EV technology, and the general enthusiasm from different industries, we will be seeing more organisations investing in EVs for operational improvement purposes in future,” concludes Blatherwick.

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