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You were surprised that South Africans don’t want green cars ?

Let’s get real. South Africans don’t actually want green cars. We want sexy cars that arc cheap. Truth be told, we don’t give a toss about the planet; we care about our pockets.

Okay, maybe I am being a little harsh. Some South Africans do want to save the planet – hence the handful of hybrids on our mads. Companies such as Nissan and BMW arc even planning to launch electric cars here soon (more about that later), although motorists wonder if power shortages will see those electric cars parked on the side of the mad, as useless as a chocolate teapot.

A major challenge is the South African culture. Europeans want mobility. South Africans want cars. And no, they arc not the same thing being mobile – be it via your legs (shock, horror … yes people in Europe actually walk), car, bus, tram, train, tuk-tuk, taxi … whatever. Earlier this year, BMW hosted an с-mobility conference and a well-known South African motoring journalist pretty much summed up the thinking of middle-class South Africans when he pointed out that the Gautrain bus comes straight past his front door. ‘But I don’t catch it. Of course not! I would never take a bus,’ he said, with patent disgust.

The aforementioned journalist probably also would not buy a hybrid – unlike his European counterparts. According to Francis Hamic, managing director of Peugeot South Africa, one in six Peugeot 3008s sold worldwide as at the end of 2012 was a hybrid. ‘One in five 508s was a hybrid,’ says Mamie, hastening to add that Peugeot is the number two hybrid seller in the world (behind Toyota).

Speaking of Toyota, the company has already sold over five-million hybrids (Toyota and Lexus models combined).

‘Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) currently sells 19 frill hybrid passenger vehicle models in approximately 80 countries and regions around the world. Last soar, hybrid vehicles accounted for 14% of TMC s global vehicle sales,’ reveals Clynton Yon, manager: product communications and marketing fleet at Toyota South Africa Motors.

It’s not only the European and Japanese manufacturers who arc selling hybrids — even the Chinese (who have not enjoyed a particularly good reputation among bunny buggers) have come to the green party. ‘Great Wall Motors (GWM) has been working on the research and development of energy-saving vehicles for a long time, and established a dedicated R&.D department for new energy products in 2006. To date, GWM has successfully developed seven energy-efficient models or plug-in hybrid electric vehicles,’ sap Tony Pinfold, GWM chairman.

The cost factor

But, while these cars have sold well overseas, this is undoubtedly due to two factors: the aforementioned cultural differences and government support. ‘Hybrids have not achieved the kind of retail numbers in South Africa that they have elsewhere. The most obvious reason for this is because the financial rebates that arc offered by all first-wrorld countries arc not available in South Africa. Hybrid technology is not cheap but, in Europe and the USA, the financial kickback that buyers receive from the government (on initial purchase and also when it comes to taxes for insurance and emissions) make these vehicles a fur more viable proposition,’ explains Yon.

Harnie concurs. ‘Hybrids arc very popular in Europe because of government aid. European governments arc encouraging the growth of electric vehicles too – in future, countries will be obliged to provide parking pays with electrical charging stations,’ he tells WOW.

But back to the plastic bag-buying nation of South Africa (the failure of that project confirms that we don’t care about the environment). What is the situation here? Well, we have long had hybrids – which have hardly sold. Now, as mentioned, Nissan and BMW arc rolling out electrical vehicles. The LEAF is coming from Nissan later this year; the BMW i3 will be launched in South Africa in April 2014 followrcd by the BMW i8 in July 2014. The BMW i3 is an all-electric vehicle, while the plug-in hybrid BMW i8 has an electric motor and an internal combustion engine. These will sec us leap into the automotive future – for instance, drivers will be able to find their vehicles, flag up nearby charging stations, allow batter)1′ charging and check the status of their vehicles … all at a touch of a button via their smartphones.

General electric

Nissan has long been a proponent of electric cars. As Ross Garvic, product manager for the Nissan LEAF, points out, the Nissan LEAF formed part of the shuttle service during the COP17 climate change summit in Durban in 2011. ‘That was when wrc announced our intentions to bring the vehicle to market this year,’ he recalls.

But this clearly cannot happen without government support. We have entered into discussions with various rolc-playcrs in the governmental, parastatal and public sectors. Rcccndy the Department of Environmental Affairs embarked on a pilot programme in Pretoria with four Nissan LEAF vehicles. Charging infrastructure has been set up at various sites through a third part)’,’ he says.

In her speech at the handover of the vehicles, the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Edna Molcwa, made it dear that her department supports zero-emissions mobility. ‘With the increase in urbanisation and a growing middle class in South Africa, the demand for modem transportation to support its urban lifestyle can be met by the carbon-neutral electric car option. The electric car is slowly changing the landscape of modem commuter transportation,’ she contended.

Back to the future?

But arc green vehicles really the most suitable solution for South Africa? Chari Groblcr, manager of sales and product planning at Suzuki Auto South Africa, doesn’t think so. ‘Although there arc definite applications for the plug-in electric vehicle in many global markets, South Africa’s dependence on coal for energy generation makes a strong ease for very efficient, small-capacity, lightweight vehicles instead,’ he says.

These vehidcs can be extremely frugal – for instance, the pctrol-cngincd Spada, which Suzuki introduced in Japan in February this year. This multipurpose vchidc (or MPV in motoring jargon) uses less than 3,4 1/100km – without the use of any hybrid electric or fuel ocll technology. Here in South Africa, the Volkswagen Polo BlucMotion promises the same….

Another senior motor industry source – who spoke to WOW on condition of anonymity – was even more adamant that green cars arc not the way to go. ‘Let’s put the whole thing into perspective. Even if you’re building green cars, the manufacturing process is a dirty one – let’s not forget that you need to mine the metal in the first place, produce the batteries and then ship components and cars across the planet. If we arc produdng hybrids, the gains in terms of fuel efficiency arc not significant enough. Assuming we arc producing dearie cars, how arc we going to powrcr all these vehidcs? Mine more coal? Pump more noxious gases into the atmosphere?’ he asks.

I Ic says that the time has come for the motor industry to take stock. ‘We need to figure out what we’re trying to achieve. Remember, the pursuit of this technology is also incredibly expensive – and that amortisation of cost Is certainly being transferred onto the traditional petrol and diesel burning models. So we arc all paying a premium for our petrol and diesel cars; the money has to come from somewhere!’ he notes.

As such, he says that there arc huge question marks hanging over the industry’s pursuit of greenness.

And you were surprised that South Africans don’t want green cars ?

via WOW journal.