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SA motorists will adopt ‘wait and see’ stance to government electric vehicle proposals

Although South Africa is in the grip of ‘electric vehicle fever’ and government is moving aggressively to evaluate and implement systems to facilitate their introduction, several major steps will have to be taken to smooth the way for electric vehicles before they take to the road, says Deloitte.

Government had moved decisively with the introduction of their ‘Electric Vehicle (EV) Industry Road Map’ to evaluate input from stakeholders. The promise that by September 2013 implementation proposals for the vehicles would be submitted to cabinet was indicative of the Department of Trade and Industry determination to keep South Africa at the cutting edge of automotive technology.

However, if international experience is anything to go by, there will be several challenges to be faced before the technology is rolled out across the country and fully adopted by South Africans. The major concern will be matching electric vehicle realities against consumer expectations - a process that could take several years.

Indicators of what could be expected in South Africa could be gleaned from research into EVs around the world, A seven-month Deloitte global research project completed in 2011, found that in 17 countries the majority of the 30 000 consumers polled were initially willing to consider buying an electric vehicle or be potential ‘first movers’ when it came to acquiring an electric vehicle.

However, deeper questioning revealed a significant gap between consumer expectations of EV capabilities and what could actually be delivered. Consumers generally felt that EVs should be able to go farther, on less charge time, for a cheaper price than automakers were able to offer.

Research showed that between three and 20 hours could be required to recharge batteries, whilst consumers desired a recharge time of 30 minutes or less. In some major markets manufacturers promoted small, urban use vehicles, when consumers’ preferences were for hatchback or mid-sized sedans.

In South Africa, a country characterised by large distances between urban areas, a road network that was often in disrepair and where infrastructure was sometimes lacking, motorists, like their international counterparts, would need assurance about the capabilities of the vehicles, battery life and charging times and availability of charging points, amongst other issues, before considering a change to EVs.

The price of the vehicles, costs of maintenance, and longevity of batteries and replacement costs as well as the price of charging versus petrol or diesel, would also obviously be deciding factors in a market where vehicles are relatively expensive when compared to other international markets.

On the other hand, the survey surprisingly revealed that more motorists in emerging markets would be willing to consider a switch to electric power. Motorists in developed markets such as the USA, Germany, UK, Japan, France and Canada, to name a few, showed a lower appetite for the potential first movers to EVs with scores coming in at a range of 4% to 14%, with between 40% and 46% unwilling to change.

Developing nations such as Argentina, China, India and Turkey showed a high propensity to change with potential first movers coming in between 22% to 59% and unwillingness to change much lower at 7% to 15%.

This would suggest that SA, being classed as a developing nation, could have a high proportion of first movers. Locally, however, variables such as education levels, unemployment and lack of coordinated public transport will have to be considered as part of the equation, before a view on early technology adoption could be made.

Despite the commendable efforts by government, it is ultimately the consumer who will decide whether electric vehicles in South Africa will become a success story for manufacturers and government. Before the technology is fully accepted it is probable that local motorists will adopt a ‘wait and see attitude’ and evaluate industry and government initiatives before making the decision to go green.

There is no doubt that recommendations by the DTI, which promise to be comprehensive and could cover questions such as tax incentives, EV registration costs and issues relating to infrastructure, will be keenly awaited by those interested in greener, environment friendly transport.

For an in-depth view of electric cars from over 13 000 individuals in 17 countries such as China, Germany, India and Italy, please download the report: Unplugged: Electric vehicle realities versus consumer expectations

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