Electric Vehicles: The New Commute

Right now, just imagining getting into a motor vehicle that has no driver and no steering wheel, strikes fear into the deepest part of me. It just doesn’t sound natural, right?

16 July 2018

Electric vehicles and driverless cars sound like they’re part of a science fiction, futuristic world of jetpacks and robotic pets. But I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there are some people that are already living in that amazing world of possibility, right here in Mzansi! South Africans are torn between how we define and understand our developing nation; are some of these incredible innovations even applicable and possible for a country where vast areas of our nation are stuck in the dark ages of pit toilets and children being educated under trees?

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I was on a quest to find out whether the fascinating world of future mobility was even a relevant conversation for us living in the deepest part of Africa. With movement away from fossil fuels trending, and with regular petrol price hikes hitting us hard in our pockets, the search for affordable and sustainable mobility alternatives is on. Of course we’ve all heard about electric vehicles and have probably already seen a few hybrids on our roads locally, but several myths about electric cars still persist. I spoke to Winstone Jordaan, Managing Director of Grid Cars, a company that is leading the way in building an infrastructure to support electric vehicles in the country. Winstone allayed some of my misgivings around driving an electric vehicle. “I don’t have enough time in the day to tell you about all the advantages of going electric!” he enthused. Even though there are just under 400 electric vehicles on our roads, at last count, the infrastructure to support these vehicles is sufficient, Winstone assured me. “We have to remember that electric vehicles are meant for urban, metropolitan environments” he continued. With over 50 charging points in and around Pretoria and Johannesburg alone, and with a fully-charged car managing around 150kms comfortably, then you can start to see that going electric is a practical choice. The major stumbling blocks right now is that the vehicles themselves are pricey, and so perpetuate the notion that electric vehicles are for the elite, and that right now, driving from Joburg to Cape Town wouldn’t be possible quite yet in an electric car due to lack of charging stations along that route.

The next level of future mobility is semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles. Right now, just imagining getting into a motor vehicle that has no driver and no steering wheel, strikes fear into the deepest part of me. It just doesn’t sound natural, right? But Executive director of Mobility Centre for Africa, Victor Radebe, is excited about the future that includes and embraces autonomous vehicles. “The problem on our roads is you, the driver!” he says emphatically. The ideal future however is where all the vehicles on our roads are autonomous, and they can communicate not only with each other, but with the traffic signals on the roads. “Testing for fully autonomous vehicles can happen as early as next year” says Radebe, “obviously in controlled environments and not on the N1, but the future is here!”

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Even though we’re a developing nation, looking forward and staying competitive in the global landscape of science and technology is crucial to pull this entire country forward, into an exciting and prosperous future for everyone. So even though driving a semi-autonomous vehicle, or an electric one may not be part of your immediate future, South Africa has to think of what slice of the technology pie we want, and how big do we want it to be. “We have to be forward-looking as a nation because we are producing vehicles for our export market” says Radebe, which brings a whole new perspective on the conversation. So, is it relevant for us to be seriously talking about future mobility? Of course, yes. But are we ready to embrace the new revolution of mobility? Perhaps not quite yet…

Claire Mawisa is a South African television presenter, model and radio personality best known for being an SABC1 continuity presenter (1999-2001), as well as for co-hosting the SABC1 music variety show One, from 2002-2003. After many years working in radio and television, and opening her own business, Claire joined the Carte Blanche team in 2015.

You follow @clairemawisa on Twitter.