charging an electric vehicle

05 Jun 2024

Shifting gears: SA's electric vehicle transition

Two in three cars sold globally will be electric by 2035, says the International Energy Agency. And in Europe - South Africa's largest automobile export market, one in four cars sold are already EVs. SA is way behind this adoption curve, but it's quickly picked up pace in the last two years.

In this episode of The Current, we look at what needs to be amped up for SA drivers to shift their mindsets and benefit from the cost and carbon savings of electric vehicles. Host, Iman Rappetti, is joined by Mark Raine, co-CEO of Mercedes-Benz South Africa; Ndia Magadagela, CEO of Everlectric and Investec's head of Sustainable Solutions, Melanie Humphries.


The Current Ep 8 | Shifting gear: SA's electric vehicle transition

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Iman Rappetti is joined by Mercedes-Benz co-CEO Mark Raine, Ndia Magadagera, CEO of Everlectric, and Investec's Melanie Humphries to discuss whether EVs are viable in SA, given their hefty price tag and our energy constraints. An in-depth exploration of electric vehicles from Investec Focus Radio

Podcast transcript: scroll to the areas that interest you

  • IR: Iman Rappetti, journalist and host
  • NM: Ndia Magadagela, Everlectric, co-founder
  • MR: Mark Raine, Mercedes-Benz SA, co-CEO
  • MH: Melanie Humphries, head of Sustainable Solutions, Investec
  • 00:00: Intro

    IR: Planes, trains, automobiles, and ships. Globally, the transport sector contributes to around 37% of all greenhouse gas emissions. South Africa is the third largest emitting sector behind energy and industry, with over 90% of transport sector emissions arising from road transport. In 2024, electric car sales in China are projected to account for about 45% of all car sales in the country, while in Europe, one in four cars sold is electric.

    In the US, it's roughly one in nine. While South Africa is barely on the starting grid when it comes to EV adoption, the need to transition is imperative for our automotive manufacturing industry to remain relevant, for our country to meet its net zero goals, and for our people. to benefit from far more affordable transport in the long term.

    Welcome to The Current, an Investec-focused radio podcast on South Africa's energy transition. I'm Iman Repeti, and in this 10-part series, we've been having conversations with industry experts from inside Investec and beyond about how South Africa can move towards more equitable and sustainable energy solutions.

    In the eighth episode of the series, we talk to the CEO of a startup that's helping drive South Africa's "EV-lution" and the head of Investec Sustainable Solutions Business, along with the CEO of the company that invented the automobile in 1886. 

  • 01:54: Meet the guests

    IR: Let's meet my guests.

    NM: My name is Ndia Magadagera, I am CEO and co-founder of Everlectric.  Everlectric is an electric vehicle as a service business. So we lease electric vehicles to players in the logistics industry.

    MH: I'm Mel Humphries and I look after Investec Sustainable Solutions within the Private Bank. We specifically look after all the infrastructure needs of our clients, including solar, water, electric vehicles.

    MR: My name is Mark Raine. I'm the CEO of Mercedes-Benz in South Africa. 

  • 03:03: Overview of electric vehicle stats in South Africa

    IR: South Africa is lagging substantially behind other nations when it comes to the adoption of electric vehicles. Mel, let's start with some of the numbers and give our listeners an overview of the EV market in South Africa.

    MH: I think it's fair to say that passenger electric vehicles have had a slow start, but that it's picking up pace. So in 2023, South Africa sold just under a thousand electric vehicles, and this is set against around 502 electric vehicles being sold in 2022. Just to put all of that in perspective, in the entire four years prior to that, the country sold around 500 vehicles.

    And so an exponential amount of growth in interest in this industry.

    We’re also seeing similar growth in terms of the electric vehicle charging infrastructure being rolled out in the country. And so at the moment, we're sitting on more than 400 electric vehicle charging stations, with participants such as GridCars, Rubicon, some of the original equipment manufacturers, all participating and contributing to that infrastructure, but then also some really innovative new technology coming from players such as Zero Carbon Charge, which is rolling out renewable energy charging stations.

  • 03:38: SA destined to be an electric vehicle market

    IR: So while the number of EVs and charging stations in South Africa is still very small, that picture is changing. I asked Mark what it's going to look like in the medium to longer term.

    MR: I think the whole industry was very excited to get going on electric vehicles. I always said, South Africa was late to the party because other markets around the world were slightly earlier pre-COVID and then really accelerated in the COVID period.

    But I still feel that the South African market is predestined to become an electric vehicle market. No other country is as ready to do the energy transition as South Africa is.

    IR: Mel, what are Investec clients' attitudes towards EVs?

    MH: Investec's private banking clients are often early adopters in terms of new technology and innovation. We have over 200 new energy vehicles within our book.

    So that includes electric vehicles, hybrid vehicles, hybrid plug in vehicles, and that comprises around one and a half percent of the total new energy Vehicle fleet in South Africa in a recent survey to our clients, which was very interesting over 30% of our clients said they would actually consider buying an electric vehicle in spite of some of the challenges.

    Those challenges are still real. We're talking about range anxiety, the cost of electric vehicles, the lack of electricity, the lack of electric vehicle charging stations. But we definitely seeing an evolution towards solving some of these issues and the adoption of electric vehicles coming to the fore.

    And so as we roll out our Sustainable Solutions offering, not only are we thinking about solar and water, but electric vehicles and how we finance those. 

  • 05:17: Preferential financing of EVs

    IR: On that note, do you foresee some evolution in the way in which new energy vehicles are financed?

    MH: At the moment, passenger electric vehicles are financed through normal vehicle finance products by all the banks. But I do see that as this market gains prominence, we will see more bespoke funding solutions, especially for electric vehicles, where clients are incentivised and rewarded for going towards renewable cars. 

  • 05:44: Bringing price tags on EVs down

    IR: Globally speaking, South Africa's uptake of electric vehicles has been slow. Even though models like the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3 have been on the local market since 2013 and 2015 respectively, the move away from the internal combustion engine, or ICE vehicles as they're known in the industry, hasn't been as rapid as in other countries.

    The main reason being the hefty price tags associated with EVs. Something that Ndia, Melanie and Mark believe can be softened with the right interventions.

    NM:  The key is government policy and having incentives for the end user. If you look at countries globally that have had mass adoption of electric vehicles like Norway and the UK, etc, it's because there was policy in place where government was incentivising users to go electric or even tax breaks. And so, I think that will drive the adoption of electric mobility for you and I.

    MH: I think just looking at the existing import taxes on electric vehicles will also go a long way. At the moment, the import tax on electric vehicles is 25% against ICE vehicles that is at 18%. And then in addition to that, for vehicles over R700 000- there's an additional ad valorem tax of 17% and above. And even if we see some government reform around some of those import taxes, I believe that we will see greater affordability and commerciality when it comes to driving electric vehicles.

    MR: Electric vehicles in South Africa are too expensive and I always lobby for the fact that we need price parity of internal combustion engines and electric vehicles. I'm not even talking about subsidies. I'm just saying don't put electric vehicles at a disadvantage. I could import a V12 super sports car at lesser import duties then electric vehicle.  That needs to be matched on the same level that would put electric vehicles at a great advantage because you can't look at the vehicle purchase price.

    You need to look at what we would call the cost of ownership - looking at the average fuel consumption. Average driver of Mercedes-Benz probably spends R5 000, R6 000, R7 000 round per month on fuel. 

    If you take an electric vehicle that goes down by two-thirds, at least at the highest rate, which you would be charging your vehicle, but it could go even lower if you're fully off the grid. 

  • 08:07: "Range anxiety" and number of charging stations in SA

    IR: Right now, in South Africa, buying an electric vehicle isn't a straightforward decision. Besides having a relatively limited range of models from which to choose, compared to internal combustion powered vehicles, there is a very real shift in mindset required. And this is probably best epitomised by the concept of “range anxiety”. This is the fear that you don't have enough charge to get to where you need to be.

    MH: Range anxiety for the average consumer that drives a passenger vehicle is a very real thing. The reality though is that for the average commuter, the charge that you get from your battery is entirely sufficient to get you from point A to point B And back and do that a few times in a week. And so it's all about planning, having charging stations installed at your home, at work, at shopping centres, and just to plan around when you do those charges.

    MR: I think we need to. demystify this topic. At the moment, there are around about 500 charging stations in South Africa. People don't need to be scared or be anxious about running out of charge, because, especially in the metropolitan area, amongst the big highways, there's a good coverage of charging stations.

    And for me, charging infrastructure is not a singular topic. It needs to be dissected a bit. It's the public charging network. Next to it, we've got private charging networks at certain locations like shopping centres and hotels. It's also the charging environment at your private property or your office space.

    And last, but not least, also looking at how do you access charging. We've contributed as Mercedes-Benz with investing into 125 charging stations and R40 million, which we've already committed, into the local charging network. And out of those 125, 35 charging stations are already live, and we're working hard in rolling out the remaining 90 charging stations. And we've been working together with some of the providers in order to really up the presence of charges around the country for the longer distances, and I always say, even if you drive to Cape Town.

    You wouldn't be making a pit stop in Bloemfontein for argument's sake. If you've got a DC charger, you can charge from 10 to 80%, so you can charge there while you have a coffee, a toilet break, or what have you.

    And then 500 - 600 kilometres on, you could have the next charging break. So any normal trip to Cape Town would probably also include two breaks while you're driving there, and the same would apply for electric vehicles. So it actually doesn't interfere with your habits or your driving in any bigger sense. 

  • 10:43: Are EV's really greener than ICE vehicles?

    IR: There is a counterargument to EVs that calls into question their eco credentials. While they are zero-emission vehicles on the road, there is some debate about the environmental impact during their entire lifecycle, from manufacture to recycling.

    MH: There's many an anecdote in the market and certainly I'm no scientific expert, but I think when you look at the carbon emissions, whether it's an electric vehicle or an internal combustion engine vehicle, one has to look at three main things. The one is the production emissions created by that vehicle.

    The second part is the emissions created by the use of that vehicle and then the end-of-life emissions. End-of-life emissions, I think, is fair to say is fairly minimal, whether for electric vehicles or ICE vehicles, considering the overall emissions of a vehicle over its life cycle.

    The carbon emissions that are created in the production of an electric vehicle is between 15 and 60% higher than what it is for an ICE vehicle, as a result of the processes that are required for the mining and processing of the raw materials such as lithium and cobalt that goes into the batteries of electric vehicles.

    But then if one looks at the running cost of electric vehicles, much depends on the grid that the vehicle is being charged on.

    So if we look at a market such as Norway, where 88% of the energy that's created by that economy is renewable energy. One is able to get close to net zero emissions. In South Africa, where we are still very much reliant on energy produced by coal fired power plants.

    The CO2 emissions produced by electric vehicles are still less by about two-thirds than what is produced by ICE vehicles and the scientific consensus cutting through all the myths and some of the anecdotes out there is that the life cycle comparison of an electric vehicle is still more sustainable than what an internal combustion engine vehicle is.

    And of course, then burning fossil fuels to make and to drive those electric vehicles is one of the key inputs and impacts, but at a lower level than for internal combustion engines. And so it holds today.

    And I think as our energy grid becomes more renewable, the argument will hold over time too.

    MR: Obviously, if you've got a coal plant producing electricity and then you charge your car, that's not an ideal situation. But especially in South Africa, with a high adoption rate of solar panels as a private source for electricity, the private consumer can tackle electric mobility, sustainable mobility, in an ecosystem, which makes sense, not only for their own pocket, but also from environmental fact.

    And together with our charging partner GridCars, we're looking at how can we bring up more charging stations, which get fed electricity from a sustainable source.

  • 13:36: Recycling of EV's batteries

    IR: Another important consideration from an environmental perspective is what happens to the batteries of electric vehicles when they reach the end of the road.

    NM: We do have to consider the secular economy and what happens at the end. So it's important to note that more than 90% of a lithium battery is recyclable, number one. Secondly, these end-of-life batteries are finding use cases in other applications as stationary storage.

    There are businesses that we are seeing being created even in South Africa, whose sole purpose will be to take care of the end-of-life batteries. And these are business cases that are showing to be very efficient, and they will be quite bankable and profitable.

    MR: This is one of the factors which we're tackling to demystify electric driving . So we give between 8 and 10 years battery warranty on our vehicles, which exceeds any life cycle of people actually owning cars. And on top of it, the battery technology will evolve so quickly that in 8 to 10 years’ time, the next generation battery going into that same vehicle will supersede the capabilities of the current day battery.

    At the moment we're building up a reconditioning plant in Germany, where we can ship batteries back from South Africa, which will be reconditioned for second usage. 

    IR: Our conversation with Melanie, Mark, and Ndia continues after this.

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  • 15:48: B2B businesses - Leasing of electric vehicles

    IR: Electric vehicles are certainly finding their feet in South Africa. Not only because brands like Mercedes-Benz are expanding their EV line up, but also, because of businesses like Everlectric, an electric vehicle as a service business that leases fleets of EVs to fleet owners and operators, counting Woolworths, DSV and Aramex among their clients.

    NM: What we are finding is that there are industries in South Africa that are ripe for transition to electric mobility. And those are industries that by definition do a lot of kilometres. T

    here are two pain points that market has. One, it is the cost of fuel, and then two, it is the ESG commitments. People are actually concerned about their carbon footprint, and therefore, even though they are finding that the cost of buying the electric vehicle is quite high, on the leasing model, It actually works.

    So on a total cost of ownership level, leasing an electric vehicle is 10% to 20% cheaper. If you look at the all-in costs, and that is because the running costs of an electric vehicle are way less, even though the initial purchase price might be higher. So for players that are doing a high number of kilometres - over 3000 kilometres - it is cheaper to lease an electric vehicle than to lease an internal combustion engine vehicle.

  • 17:13: Leased EVs and their ESG credentials

    IR: You mentioned ESG. What percentage then of your businesses are using renewable energy to charge their leased vehicles?

    NM: So we are moving to a place where all businesses will be able to charge on renewable energy sources. I think we need to take into account the continuum of where we are as a country.

    First of all, the grid is greening. You can see that with all the solar that is coming online. And soon we will also be able to wheel electricity through the Infrastructure to actual charges. So I'll be able to say this is electricity that I have gotten from a solar installation or from a wind installation somewhere.

    So in the case, where we don't charge off solar and we charge off the grid, all the electricity that we use in our vehicles is designated as green because of the renewable energy certificate that we purchase off a solar and wind installation in the Northern Cape.

    So, in the meantime, we are offsetting.

  • 18:12: The larger the electric vehicle, the more the cost saving

    IR: Would you ever extend this leasing model to big trucks and more heavy-duty vehicles?

    NM: So we have started extending this to four-ton and when eight-ton trucks are available, we will go in that direction as well.

    So we are testing all sorts of sizes of vehicles, but you have to note that the bigger the vehicle, the cheaper it is to run because that fuel line then becomes bigger, and so the running costs in an electric truck, for instance, would be cheaper.

    There's also a use case for micro-mobility - two-wheelers, and three-wheelers can go electric, and that is something that we're also testing out.

    IR: So what sort of costs are businesses looking at for an EV electric vehicle, and how does it compare to traditional delivery vehicles?

    NM: So we did an analysis and we've actually seen it on the ground now having run for all these number of kilometres to run an internal combustion engine and light delivery vehicle in a certain class will cost you about 250 per kilometer, but to run.

    A similar electric vehicle will cost you less than 50 cents. So even though the cost of purchasing that vehicle up front might be high, the running costs actually are much lower.

    And so when you put it together in the life of that vehicle, the electric vehicle is cheaper to run. So how does the leasing model actually help businesses that look to transition.

    When we put it all together, we purchase the vehicle, we provide that vehicle to our client. We provide the charging infrastructure, the maintenance altogether, in this solution. It takes that headache out and they still get to save money. 

  • 20:38: Evolution of EVs in public transport, like SA taxis

    IR: The public focus on EVs is perhaps unsurprisingly on private transport, but there are a number of countries across the world that use electric vehicles for public transport. China, Germany, India and even Chile have adopted the technology for their modes of mass transport. I asked Ndia if she could see the same happening in South Africa.

    NM: Public transport is really ripe for electric mobility because by definition they do a number of kilometres pr-set, every day. The same route most of the time.

    And so that says you can put a charger at X place and this vehicle can travel a certain route. We are seeing businesses like these coming out. There's actually a project in Cape Town right now, electrifying 15-seater taxis, where in the future you'll be at the rank and a taxi will be charging and you will be traveling in an electric vehicle to Thembisa and Mamelodi. 

  • 20:38: EVs in public transport like SA taxis

    IR: The public focus on EVs is perhaps unsurprisingly on private transport, but there are a number of countries across the world that use electric vehicles for public transport. China, Germany, India and even Chile have adopted the technology for their modes of mass transport. I asked Ndia if she could see the same happening in South Africa.

    NM: Public transport is really ripe for electric mobility because by definition they do a number of kilometres preset every day, the same route most of the time.

    And so that says you can put a charger at X place and this vehicle can travel a certain route. We are seeing businesses like these coming out. There's actually a project in Cape Town right now, electrifying 15-seater taxis, where in the future you'll be at the rank and a taxi will be charging and you will be traveling in an electric vehicle to Thembisa and Mamelodi. 


  • 21:35: Incorporating your EV battery into a home energy solution

    IR: Another branch of electric mobility that would be beneficial to South Africans actually has nothing to do with transport, but it could go some way to resolving the power crises we experience in our homes.

    MH: Very interesting new technology out there where one's electric vehicle and specifically the battery can become part of your home backup energy system.

    Car battery is very similar to the batteries that one would use in your battery energy storage system at home, except that the capacity of your Electric Vehicle car battery is 10 times that of your typical home battery.

    And so what this allows is a very interesting use case where one could potentially park your car in your garage at night and use that as part of your integrated backup storage system. Integrated with your solar solution. 

  • 22:27: Automotive manufacturing sector in SA must change to survive

    IR: The global move away from the internal combustion engine is a trend that South Africa is following, but at a pace many feel is too slow. The adoption of electric mobility isn't just about efficiency and the environment, for a country that is a global player in automotive manufacturing- there are also very real economic considerations.

    MH: The automotive industry is a large export sector for South Africa and it employs around 110,000 people. So, many countries have put targets in place to ban the sale of internal combustion engine vehicles, typically by 2035 and beyond as they go towards their net zero targets by 2050.

    And so the main concern is therefore a shrinking demand for conventional petrol and diesel cars that we export to Europe. And so in order to remain relevant and competitive, we also need to shift our automotive production industry..

    MR: It contributes over 5% to the GDP in totality. We export the lion's share of our cars to other countries, 42% to the U.S., 98% in totality. The world is not going to wait for South Africa to be ready. China is going EV, the U.S. is going EV, Europe is going EV, and that is my great concern, that South Africa might be left behind in that development.

  • 23:47: Stimulating EV manufacturing in SA

    IR: So the question then is, how do we stimulate EV manufacturing in South Africa?

    MR: I think we need to be realistic on the one hand, but we also need to look at who are all the stakeholders. It can't entirely depend on the government.

    I think, especially in a South African context, knowing where the automotive market is, where the country stands as a whole, it would be unfair to solely depend on the government, but we need to work together.

    We as an industry. Well, as all stakeholders in South Africa, we're late to the party, but I think we're catching up. And I would say the government is trying to the best of their ability to have a collaborative approach with the industry.

    So we're talking a lot. We're being asked for input, we're being asked for our opinion, we're being asked about what do we do in other markets. But the industry obviously plays a big role.

    It's also, for instance, car dealerships in its wider form, it's charging partners, it's banking partners. Everyone who has a touch point with mobility in every form needs to be involved in that, and I think there needs to be a certain conviction that this is the right way forward on the production side.

    There's a lot of platforms being created to discuss and to really look at topics which will have substance and traction going forward.

    What I would wish for is more stimulating local demand, which is vitally important without stimulating local demand, meaning price parity, looking at charging infrastructure and looking at a holistic approach of upskilling, education, and all of these topics, making the market ready for the EV of a launch, which is surely gonna come. That is, I think, one key aspect which needs to be tackled 

  • 25:30: The electric vehicles white paper lays out SA's roadmap

    IR: Ndia, what progress has been made since the release of the automotive green paper in 2021 in modifying existing manufacturing plants to produce hybrids and then ultimately electric vehicles.

    NM: There's been a subsequent white paper actually that came out in December of 2023. And this is after the adoption of the policy at cabinet. And I think that tells us that there is movement towards having some sort of road map.

    We've always been part of lobby groups and we've always been on the platforms that are actively taking part in sharing our knowledge on the ground with government.

    And we can see some movement, but I do think that we need to move quicker than we are right now. The rest of the world has moved a hundred steps ahead of us and we are lagging behind. 

  • 26:18: Mercedes-Benz's CEO predicts 10,000 EVs to be sold by 2027

    IR: So there is work to be done, but the outlook is positive for both consumers and industry. Mark can see a time in the not-too-distant future when electric vehicles are a regular part of the South African motoring mix.

    MR: With more and more electric vehicles coming into the market and also Chinese players offering more affordable electric vehicles at the bottom end of the market, the adoption rate will grow. And if your prices go up, it makes electric vehicles more affordable.

    And with more competition in the market, I think electric vehicles become a more daily sight on the streets of South Africa.

    And we are really pushing hard for that. I would believe come 2027, the ketchup bottle effect is going to happen in South Africa.

    My observation of the South African market is really that once South African consumers catch up to a trend, it happens very quickly. They're cautious at first, but then it rolls out very quickly.

    And I believe in 2027, we're going to have plus 10,000 units sales per annum. We're going to have a charging infrastructure, which will supersede 2,000 charging stations in South Africa, looking at that we've got 500 already.

    And come the end of the decade, we're going to be looking back at this conversation and saying, if we would have only known.

  • 27:35: Closing comments- Electrification of cars is here to stay

    IR: As things stand, EVs in South Africa could be seen as a fascination or a fad. But given that the world is moving inexorably towards a future that is building its road transportation on an electric cornerstone, ignoring EVs is no longer an option. The time has come to build consumer confidence, grow dealer floors, and expand automotive factories for the benefit of electromobility.

    NM: It started out being technology that is being tried out. It is for a few people, but we are going to start to see prices coming down. We are seeing technology getting better and better in battery technology, but we're also seeing more affordable options of vehicles coming to South Africa as well.

    We've got obstacles in the space, but there are definitely opportunities for individuals to go electric with the prices coming down and also specifically businesses which do a lot of kilometres. There is a real opportunity. It's an opportunity to go green and to also save money while doing it.

    MH: We're at an interesting inflexion point from early participants to mass adoption. And we see this industry growing exponentially over time. It's not “if, it's just “when” and what that growth rate is going to look like.

    And it is going to unlock many opportunities, whether it's for the individual driver of an electric vehicle or for some of the participants in the industry.

    IR: And if you need more convincing, Mark has one simple piece of advice.

    MR: Electric vehicle driving is fascinating and you just have to try it out. There are many features which electric vehicles allow for, which in a South African context are great. For instance, you can pre-condition your vehicle before you get into your car. Meaning you can set the right temperature. If you look at the comfort levels, it's superior to any internal combustion engine.

    And we talk a lot about pollution, but electric vehicles are quiet. It's a form of comfort which we've forgotten about . Besides that, electric vehicles are the unique solution of combining the latest in technology, comfort features, autonomous driving.

    Electric vehicles normally come with state of the art safety and assistance systems and that will also make South African roads safer, not only for drivers of electric vehicles, but also for pedestrians or other road users.

    IR: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Current brought to you by Investec Focus Radio. Investec Focus Radio. In our next episode, we're zoning in on the green transition in Africa.

    The continent is rich in the rare earth minerals needed for green energy and has abundant solar power, but needs infrastructure investment of $2.9 trillion by 2050 to enable its energy transition.

    We look at what's needed to make this a reality. You can find all episodes of The Current on the Investec website or wherever you get your podcasts.

    If you enjoyed this episode, please rate it, leave a review, and tell your friends and colleagues.

    Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the contributors at the time of publication and do not necessarily represent the views of the firm and should not be taken as advice or recommendations. Investec Private Banking, a division of Investec Bank Limited. A registered credit provider committed to the Code of Banking Practice as regulated by the Ombudsman for Banking Services.


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