From the editor's desk: Going electric

August 2023 News

Kim Roberts, Editor.

Welcome to our bumper issue of SA Instrumentation & Control. I’m very excited to officially be the new editor. I have big shoes to fill, but I am looking forward to the challenge. This month we are including our Sustainability in Manufacturing Industry Guide. This is an increasingly important issue for our world, and electric vehicles (EVs) are set to make a huge contribution to a reduction in carbon emissions. Travelling along our national highways, I’ve noticed charging stations for EVs and I wonder how things are going in South Africa EV-wise. I still remember my first assignment when I started at Technews some years ago, when I had to cover a Siemens launch where they had on show their gorgeous electric Porsche. Editors were offered the chance to drive it around the Kyalami racetrack, but to my huge disappointment the battery went flat just when it was my turn.

Internationally EVs are well on their way. There are way over ten million electric cars on the world’s roads, and locally all the big car brands have entered the market with EVs (although no Teslas yet). They have an eye-watering price tag, but they are moving. Volvo opened its online order books for the XC40 Recharge, and the 25 allocated vehicles for South Africa were sold out in 24 hours. According to NAAMSA there were 6367 electric vehicles on South African roads in 2021; and sales increased by a whopping 431% year on year in 2022 to 4764 vehicles (although off a low base).

At the moment loadshedding and the price tag are stopping us from thinking about buying an EV. Charging and ‘range anxiety’ are also an issue. However, recent EVs have a range of 400 km, which is fine for everyday use, and this is about to get better. You charge at home, usually overnight, just as you would charge your cellphone. So Eskom outages can be accommodated. And if you are on a long journey, a GridCars map will show you the charging stations every couple of hundred kilometres all along our major highways.

There are some advantages. EVs have one rotating part, a single-speed gearbox and no clutch, and they operate in silence with one-pedal driving. There is no torque convertor, no gearchanges, just linear power and acceleration. Regenerative braking recharges the batteries rather than dissipating the energy in brake heat. Maximum torque is at zero revs, so instant power is available from standstill and all through the speed range. The smooth driving experience cannot be matched by an internal combustion engine (ICE) car, however sophisticated and complex. The cost of charging is substantially less than filling up with petrol or diesel. Electric motors also run for more than a million kilometres with almost no maintenance, due to their simplicity.

In comparison, ICE cars have highly complex mechanics with thousands of rotating and reciprocating parts that result in pollutants, noise, heat, vibration and high maintenance costs. The cost of an EV is already comparable with a similar ICE over five years due to lower running costs and minimal maintenance. By 2025, EVs will be on purchase price parity with ICEs internationally as economies of scale kick in. Improvements in battery life will also extend the distance that EVs can travel on a single charge.

According to the 2022 Greencape Electric Vehicles report, public transport is the best business case for manufacturing. Cape Town municipality has already experimented with e-buses, and the University of Stellenbosch has a research project to bring in electric minibus taxis. There is also an opportunity for EVs in underground and opencast mining. John Deere is gearing up to introduce electric excavators locally in the near future, and Mercedes-Benz Vans is on track to introduce the first electric van.

South Africa has a world-class auto industry, and nearly 80% of the cars manufactured here are exported to Europe. However, the UK will be banning ICE cars from 2030, and the EU from 2035. So there is an urgency to convert to EVs, which is echoed by the Minister of Trade and Industry, who says that it is critical that South Africa makes the shift towards EVs if the country is to have a large and growing auto sector.

Would I get one? Definitely, if I had the budget, how cool would that be? It would be perfect for everyday driving. For now I think EVs will be left to the early adopters, but new technology comes slowly and then quickly. My guess is that eventually we will all be driving EVs.


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