SA’s electric vehicle uptake slowly accelerates

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While SA is leading other African countries in electric vehicle (EV) adoption, in comparison to other emerging markets like India and Mexico, the country is falling behind.

This is according to the Global EV Outlook 2021 compiled by the International Energy Agency, in collaboration with South African annual contributor uYilo eMobility Programme, an initiative of the Technology Innovation Agency.

The Global EV Outlook is an annual publication that identifies and discusses recent developments in electric mobility across the globe, developed with the support of the members of the Electric Vehicles Initiative.

According to the report, international EV sales grew by 41% in 2020, reaching 10 million electric cars on the world’s roads at the end of the year, despite the pandemic-related worldwide downturn in which global car sales dropped 6%.

In SA, EV uptake has slowly increased, reaching 1 332 vehicles on local roads by the end of February 2021, up from 1 119 at the end of 2019.

The report also notes SA ranked fifth globally in the ratio of public EV charging stations, with only Korea, Chile, Mexico, Indonesia and the Netherlands having more chargers per EV than the Southern African state.

February 2021 saw battery-electric vehicle (BEV) registrations (671) overtake those of plug-in hybrid electric vehicle registrations locally (661). This milestone marks the advancements in battery technology in the EV space and growing local consumer confidence in the range offered in newer generation BEVs, with less reliance on internal combustion engine hybrid technology, according to the uYilo eMobility Programme.

In the same month, SA also had its first registration of a plug-in hybrid Ferrari, the SF90.

Hiten Parmar, director of the uYilo e-Mobility Programme.
Hiten Parmar, director of the uYilo e-Mobility Programme.

“While SA is currently leading other African countries, in terms of other developing countries like India, we are behind in terms of EV adoption,” says Hiten Parmar, director of the uYilo e-Mobility Programme.

“Leading developed countries like Norway have 74% of new car sales being plug-in electric. Other African countries such as Rwanda, Kenya are introducing new frameworks to advance EV adoption in their country. Only one African country, Cape Verde, has announced a ban of internal combustion engine cars by 2035.”

India had 12 500 EVs at the end of February 2021, while Mexico had 7 100.

SA has an active footprint of 250 public charge points enabled by multiple initiatives and vehicle manufacturers across the country’s major highways, according to charging infrastructure mapping Web site PlugShare.

Dreaming of zero-emission

According to the Global EV Outlook, the resilience of global EV sales in the face of the pandemic rests on three main pillars: the number of EV models expanded while battery costs continued to fall; supportive regulatory frameworks; and additional incentives to safeguard EV sales from the economic downturn.

Even before the pandemic, many countries were strengthening key policies such as CO2 emissions standards and zero-emission vehicle mandates, notes the report. By the end of 2020, more than 20 countries had announced bans on the sales of conventional cars or mandated all new sales to be zero-emission vehicles.

While existing policies around the world suggest healthy growth of EVs over the past decade, in SA, unaffordability and lack of governmental incentive programmes are among the main barriers to EV adoption, the report notes.

Parma says at this stage, SA also does not have any specific targets set for EVs in the country.

“SA has some enabling policies that relate to EVs, like the National Development Plan 2030 and Green Transport Strategy of 2018. However, the challenge within the market has been on the affordability of EVs,” explains Parmar.

“The other aspect is also on incentivising local EV assembly and EV component production in SA, which needs to be incentivised within SA’s automotive localisation programme. Currently, there is no direct incentive for EV or EV component production in SA over industrial commercial equipment.”

In SA, pricing of EVs is still largely impacted by the customs import duties and ad-valorem duty – tax based on the assessed value of an item. For import duties alone, internal combustion engine vehicles attract 18% duty when imported from the European Union, while EVs attract 25% duty, he points out.

“The ad-valorem duty is then compounded to this, and then VAT as well that is all applied into the retail price that consumers have to pay for EVs.”

Similarly, the 2020 Electric Vehicle Buyers Survey, conducted by AutoTrader last year, found that although there is demand for electric vehicles from South African customers, the high prices and high import duties are the biggest hurdles.

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