Electric cars

NOTICE | Electric cars are on their way to SA – why and when?

Earlier this week, Fin24 reported Ford, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors and Volvo signed a program promise during the COP26 climate talks, committing to “work to achieve 100% sales of new zero-emission cars and vans in major markets by 2035 or before”.

Guy Dormehl, Wheels24 columnist has owned an electric BMW i3 for a few years and has a solar power system at home. He shares his findings with Wheels24 readers and will deepen the issue of electric mobility in South Africa with a series of regularly bi-weekly articles.

Mankind owes a huge debt to the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE). He revolutionized civilization by enabling mass transportation at high speeds for people and goods. He replaced the horse – for the greater good of the horse!

The sound and smell of ICEs is now woven into our cultural belief systems as much as the smell of sweat, droppings, leather and hay from horses previously was. From the nightly beating of a single-cylinder Lister generator on a farm to the wailing of racing engines, it had become the smell and soundtrack of our lives. Our cities rumble to the continuous sound of engines – early in the morning the city atmosphere is awakened by many engines of all sizes – a murmur of blood flowing through the streets.

Guy Dormehl’s Wheels24 drive eco system for his BMW i3.

READ | Ford, Mercedes and GM sign emissions pledge – but Toyota, Volkswagen and Nissan pull out

Modern gasoline and diesel cars are a model of engineering excellence and are quite astonishing in their capabilities. That manufacturers can produce such complex engines and transmissions, at costs the beggar believes. Despite this, modern cars are extraordinarily reliable. They deserve all the accolades they receive, and it’s no wonder they attract so many people.

So what is driving this seemingly inexorable global conversion to electric vehicles (EVs) now? And why has there been such an innate push for this change?

People are predominantly conservative and resist change – it’s unsettling to let go of what we know and accept (or even love). People feel threatened, especially if the immediate impact seems to be directly on their livelihood or lifestyle. The interests acquired with the massive financial investment will feel their influence and their power disappear. For more than a century, an entire economic ecosystem has developed around it: oil and automobile industries, dealerships; mechanical; tuners, and so on. Many of them may now feel threatened by the advent of electric transport.

Fear of the unknown is easy to exploit to discredit new ideas.

It’s an uphill battle for change, especially when the incumbents are so established and intruders are still plagued with skepticism, doubts and unresolved issues. It takes visionaries and progressive authorities to accompany the change.

So what drove this most massive transport change in over a century? It’s a wave of confluent circumstances – driven primarily by the need to try and save humanity from global warming. But alongside this great theme is the desire to make our cities more livable.

LAHORE, PAKISTAN - NOVEMBER 01: Commuters ride alo

Commuters drive along a road in heavy smog conditions in Lahore, Pakistan on November 1, 2021. The provincial capital Lahore again ranked second in the top five cities on Sunday with poor quality of l air in the world.

This has been ironically highlighted – not by an engineering or climate issue – but by the Covid pandemic. Suddenly, in the first half of 2020, cities around the world were emptied of most vehicles during strict closures. Calm has returned to the streets, and the heat and smoke have subsided. People began to smell the grass and plants again and walk the streets. Many felt that their health had improved. An almost rural idyllic feel entered the cities – and people loved it. Of course, transportation is an essential part of economic activity, so vehicles reappeared after the closures were relaxed, but there had been a mental and emotional shift in attitudes.

How can we have transport and cleanliness in the cities? There had been just enough emergence of electric vehicles for there to be a glimmer of light. The public saw a new possibility even though it still seemed both illusory and elusive.

Several electric cars will be introduced to the local market in 2022, making the choice of electric vehicles much wider than at present. Apart from affordability, what would it take for you to consider or buy an electric vehicle here in South Africa? Please send us your comments here, or use the comments section below.

This coincided with growing concern about general global pollution and CO2 emissions. Transportation and power generation are two major contributors – mainly coal and fossil fuels. Sustainable energy – Green Power (for lack of a better word) – has become the buzzword, and alternatives to coal and fossil fuels for power generation have been sought. Solar and wind power in the lead, but it all takes time. One of the shortcomings of green energy is its unpredictability and its ability to cope with peaks in demand. Storage options, including batteries, can come to the rescue.

Vehicles are a major contributor to emissions and are in fact small power plants on wheels that load up in our cities and countryside, polluting in their wake. EVs were starting to look like a good option, albeit with obstacles along the way. The main problem is the cost and availability of batteries. Indeed, electric vehicles can simply move pollution elsewhere, but two important facts make this argument irrelevant.

First, if global pollution decreases enough to warrant the change, the vast improvement in the “quality of life and health of densely populated areas is so important that it outweighs any negativity.” Cities need to be healthier and cleaner in the future, mainly because more and more people are destined to live in cities.

05 October 2021, Baden-Württemberg, Rottweil: Whi

Baden-Württemberg, Rottweil: White smoke rises from the exhaust fumes of a diesel engine.

Second, heaven and earth are moved to clean up central power generation – and most of the world’s grids are constantly improving. As this happens, every EV on the road, whether old or run down, will clean along with the network. This is the opposite of what happens with ICE vehicles which are noticeable when caught behind an old smoldering car or truck!

The other driver of this change is that electric vehicles are fundamentally better than ICE vehicles – an unusual win-win situation. People who make the jump to electric vehicles are very unlikely to switch back to ICE cars by choice. We are not being asked to replace a wonderful product with a horrible vanilla and an unsatisfactory option.

The old adage is especially true for cars – any established technology will be near the end of its development path. In contrast, new technology is, by definition, just at the start and may have shortcomings, but there is now a lot of fruit on hand to pick and soon overtake the old technology!

To put all of the above in context, would you run your vacuum cleaner with a small gasoline engine at home? Or your power tools? Or, God forbid, your toothbrush or your hair dryer! Would you like to sleep in your locked garage for the night with your car running?

Why aren’t all new cars already electric? In short – the batteries and the cost. The question of when electric vehicles will be ‘mainstream’ will be addressed in the following article, particularly in the South African context – and why is South Africa lagging behind?

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