Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Autonomous vehicles - my thoughts

The drive towards vehicle autonomy appears to be going hand in hand with the growing popularity of battery electric vehicles. Tesla in-particular are aggressively developing their Autopilot self driving system and many other auto manufacturers are introducing various levels of autonomy to their vehicles. It seems we are on the way to highways full of driver-less cars.

The potential benefits of fully autonomous vehicles are numerous. As the most common cause of traffic accidents is driver error or recklessness, taking the human element out of driving should make road use safer.

At the moment autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles just have information about the road and other road users that they gather themselves. Typically this information is gathered by an autonomous car using radar, cameras mounted on the car and GPS. It can only see as far as the vehicle mounted sensors will allow it to. As can be seen though from the video clip below, Tesla's are already able to 'see-through' the vehicle in front and detect an unseen hazard.
In the future, vehicles will also be able to garner information about the road from other vehicles in the vicinity and maybe cameras by the side of the road. Your vehicle will be talking with other cars on the road to find out what obstacles might lay ahead around the next corner and timeously take action to avoid them. Maybe all the vehicles on the road will be able to organise themselves so they take different routes to ease congestion but in doing so make the traffic flow smoother and quicker.

Clearly fully autonomous driving is coming, I think though that until every car on the road is autonomous and is able to talk and work with other vehicles on the road, there has to still be some degree of human supervision of the vehicles AI. I think fully autonomous is maybe 15-20 years away and until then we will see more and more autonomous features introduced into cars, like lane guidance and automatic emergency braking.

My main concern with autonomous vehicles is pedestrians. Recently I was driving down a city street and I noticed the pavement ahead was blocked by building rubble which had been piled up. I also saw there was a gentleman the other side of the pile of rubble, walking in the opposite direction that I was going towards the obstacle. I could see he would reach the obstacle in the pavement at about the same time I would pass it. I also realised he was going to step out in the road to walk around it at exactly the same time as I would be passing it. He was just presuming I would predict his behaviour and leave him some room to get past the obstacle, which of course I did. I just wonder if an autonomous car's AI would deduce the same thing. Would it expect the person to wait until it's passed to step into the road? Would it predict, like myself, the movements of the pedestrian and take avoiding action ahead of time?

Obviously pretty much all the research and testing of autonomous vehicles is happening in places which don't have the same anarchistic road culture we have here in South Africa. If the human road users, motorists and pedestrians, are obeying the road rules then it's going to make things more predictable for an autonomous vehicles AI. It'll be interesting to see when Tesla finally gets to this country, how their Autopilot reacts in the bedlam that are South African roads.

Another worry was brought about by an incident I heard about the other day. A driver (driving a conventional vehicle) had to swerve to avoid someone in the road and in doing so ran over and killed several people on the pavement. Obviously the human driver reacted to the immediate obstacle, the man in the middle of the road, and took avoiding action without probably even realising they were going to drive into innocent bystanders. An unfortunate accident. It got me thinking though. If that had been an autonomous vehicle and presume the vehicle was already aware through it's various sensors that there were several people by the side of the road before the incident. Now, suddenly someone steps out in front of the vehicle and there's not enough space to stop in time. The autonomous vehicle has two choices, it can carry on straight and hit (and probably kill) the person who stepped in the road, or it can take evasive action but in doing so it knows it almost certainly won't be able to avoid a group of people on the side of the road. Does it carry on straight killing one person or does it avoid the immediate danger but in doing so ends up killing two or three people?

I'm sure these are only some of the problems the brains behind the various autonomous driving systems are busy trying to solve. However, when a human driver makes an error it's an accident. When an autonomous vehicle has an incident, the blame will fly in all directions. Even if traffic accidents are reduced by 99%, when one happens the manufacturer will be blamed for selling a faulty vehicle. Regardless that the same type of vehicle may have had millions of incident free miles up to that point.

I'm sure one day all these issue will be solved and all cars will be fully autonomous and the roads will be completely safe and nobody will ever have to touch a steering wheel again.

I hope that's not the case.

Sure, it might be nice to have your car drive itself in the morning traffic on your way to work, but an autonomous vehicle will never give you the thrill of actually driving a car. I hope that they'll still be the opportunity for manual control. To feel thrill of putting your foot down on the accelerator and getting pushed back in your seat. The thrill of buzzing along a winding country road. The thrill of holding a steering wheel and having the freedom to point it in whatever direction you like and going there!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

E-Mobility in Motion

E-Mobility in Motion
Freedom Won  is a South African company specialising in renewable energy solutions. They provide solar and battery packages to power your home as well as offering electric vehicle conversions.

In March I wrote about how Chobe Game Reserve in Botswana are using converted electric powered Land Rovers for game viewing. These conversions were done by Freedom Won.

Freedom Won's prototype electric conversion vehicle is a Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Since Friday, 9 December 2011 @ 20h05, Team-Freedom Won© has been driving our prototype electric car conversion to work, shops, restaurants, friends and family! We are thrilled to report that after almost four years all systems are performing according to our high standards for reliability, safety and operability.
The vehicle selected for our first electric conversion was a Jeep Grand Cherokee with uprated suspension, which easily handles the 200kg net weight increase of the conversion - enter Freedom1©. Our electric conversion is a five seater SUV with a motor capable of delivering 80kW continuously, with 600Nm of torque available, a practical 170km range between charges and is comfortable with a 120km/h highway driving.
The motor is a robust air cooled six pole three phase magnet motor, designed for heavy duty applications and ultimate efficiency. It is driven by a sophisticated microprocessor controlled variable speed inverter drive, capable of efficiently providing strong but smooth torque delivery through the motor speed range. The system includes regenerative braking for maximum efficiency and range.
The Freedom1 drive design consists of the motor connected directly to the transfer case via a short drive shaft, driving the front (optional) and rear wheels through the original axle differentials. The 600V DC battery pack design is made up from a number of large format high performance lithium ion cells, produced by one of the world's leading lithium cell manufacturers.
The vehicle is fitted with an on-board charger that connects at home or office to a simple custom installed high power charging supply, capable of charging a fully discharged battery pack within 6 hours. For everywhere else the vehicle can also be charged in 6-8 hours using an ordinary 16A 230V household socket.
EVs (electric vehicles) require almost zero maintenance andFreedom1©'s operating costs amount to a fraction of its ICE (internal combustion engine) counterparts.
The full specs of the Freedom 1 are on their web page. The web page also notes that the cost per km for the Freedom 1 is 12c. That is probably 10% of the cost of fuel for a similar ICE (Internal combustion engine) vehicle and about the sixth of the cost of a small fuel efficient petrol or diesel car. That's not accounting for the cost of servicing and maintaining an ICE vehicle.

Click here to take a look at details of Freedom Won's other electric vehicle conversions and even request a quote to convert your own vehicle to electric power.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Plug-in Hybrid's (PHEV's) in South Africa

Plug-in Hybrid's combine an electric motor and battery with either a petrol or diesel internal combustion engine (ICE). As the name suggests, and what differentiates them from conventional hybrids, is that they have a plug to charge the battery that powers the electric motor. Typically a PHEV vehicle will be charged overnight (or like an all electric vehicle it can be charged at a charging point) and when turned on first uses the electric motor for propulsion, when the battery runs out of charge the car will automatically switch to the internal combustion engine. In some instances, depending on the model, both power sources may be used at the same time.

Chrysler Pacifica Plug-in Hybrid
The electric range of PHEV's range from about 20km to, in the case of the Chevy Volt, over 80km. If  your usual daily mileage is less than the range of the battery in your PHEV then you might find you rarely use the ICE component in day to day driving and just use the car as a pure electric vehicle. However if you're planning a longer journey, you do have the longer range of an ICE motor and the easy and quick availability of petrol or diesel to power it. Unlike a pure battery electric vehicle you don't need to try and find a charging point and wait for the batteries to charge.

The downside of having the ICE motor in a Hybrid is like conventional gas powered cars, it needs regular servicing and fluid/filter changes. With battery electric vehicles there is relatively little maintenance required and usually extends to rotating the wheels and topping up the windscreen washer fluid. Obviously a PHEV is still better than an ICE vehicle, especially if you mainly use the electric motor, because you'll be saving on fuel costs.

Though I'd like to see South African roads full of fully electric vehicles, it's an unavoidable fact that as yet there are few charging points in the country and none out of the major metropolitan centres. Add to that, the maximum range of electric vehicles currently on sale in the country is 160km (BMW i3) and it's obvious that with our long inter-city distances, anything other than urban travel in an electric vehicle is sadly not possible in South Africa as yet.

Plug-in Hybrids could be the way to introduce the benefits of electromobility to South Africans without the worry of running out of battery power and having to find somewhere to charge. At the moment there are very few PHEV's available in South Africa and they're all a bit pricey. Here's a list of the ones I'm aware of and the battery range of each one. I've left out the Mercedes S500 e and BMW i8 as they use gasoline combined with electric and don't appear to exclusively use battery power for any set distance.
  • Mercedes Benz C350 e R804,900
    30km all electric range
  • BMW X5 xDrive40eR1.188.600
    22km all electric range
  • BMW 740eR1,496,500
    22km all electric range
There is also the BMW i3 REX which isn't a true PHEV, it has a small motor that charges the batteries to give it extended range. The motor doesn't however directly drive the wheels.

There are several more affordable PHEV's available in other markets. Unfortunately none of them are available locally at the moment. Prices are just an approximate conversion from dollars or pounds.
  • Toyota Prius PrimeR356,692
    40km all electric range
  • Chevrolet VoltR448,761
    84km all electric range
  • Hyundai Ioniq Plug-inPrice n/a
    43km all electric range
  • Chrysler Pacifica HybridR552,742
    52km all electric range
I can't really understand why these manufacturers with a presence in South Africa don't bring their plug-in hybrid vehicles into the country. Prices are quite comparable to equivalent ICE vehicles and there is no pressure or obligation on the manufacturers part to provide a charging network. Indeed a PHEV still has the benefits of an ICE to a motor dealer. Like an ICE it still will require regular after sales servicing and maintenance. There really isn't any reason why these vehicles shouldn't be available to South African consumers.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

What current electric cars should come to South Africa?

As I've mentioned many times before on this blog there are at present on two fully electric cars on sale in South Africa. The Nissan Leaf and BMW i3. Other car manufacturers with a significant presence in the country also produce electric vehicles but choose not to sell them in SA. I thought I'd make a list of electric vehicles that could be available in the country if the local distributors and manufacturers chose to import them or assemble them here.
  1. Chevy Bolt
    Released late in 2016 the Bolt is the first non-Tesla electric car to have a range of over 200 miles on a single charge. At $37,500 (R518,966) it's also substantially cheaper than the base Model S70 which at the moment is Tesla's entry model at R71,200 (R985,343). The Bolt has a 60kWh battery and a maximum range of 238 miles (383km). More than enough to drive from Durban to Johannesburg with only one charging stop. Unfortunately though there are no plans at the present to bring the Chevy Bolt to South Africa
  2. Hyundai Ioniq
    The Ioniq comes in three guises, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric. Of course we are interested in the latter which with a 28kWh battery can achieve 200km on a single charge. This makes the Ioniq one of the most efficient electric cars around. The price of the Ioniq is also very competitive at £24,995 (R431,475).

  3.  Kia Soul EV
    The Kia Soul EV is the electric version of Kia's crossover vehicle. It has a 27kWh battery which is good for 150km on a single charge. The price in the UK is £29,995 (R504,699).

  4.  Smart Fortwo Electric Drive
    I can't think of a car that looks more like it should be an electric car than the Smart Fortwo. This small city car has a 17.6kWH battery that will get you 160km before you need to recharge. That's further than many bigger EV's on the market right now. It's also one of the more affordable EV's at this time. In the US it's selling for $25,750 (R338,545)
  5. Volkswagen e-Golf
    The electric version of the perennially popular VW Golf.  The e-Golf utilizes a 134-hp 100-kWh electric motor powered by a 35.8-kWh lithium-ion battery. The EPA estimates 200km of range on a single charge. Prices start in the UK at £31,680 (R532,933)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Love Affair with Land Rover - Londolozi TV

A Love Affair with Land Rover - Londolozi TV  
Londolozi Game Reserve converted one of their game viewing Land Rovers to electric and developed it to the point where it got the attention of Land Rover themselves who then built their own electric Land Rover concept vehicle which they then developed further at Londolozi.

Here is the story of the electric Land Rover from the Londolozi web site. The video of how they developed the vehicle is below.
Londolozi Game Reserve is announcing the first ever Zero Emissions Safari Vehicle…Out of Africa!
Renowned for its pioneering work in conservation development and the creation of the Londolozi Conservation and People Development model, Londolozi now introduces to the Safari industry a vehicle which moves guests silently through the wilderness with a lower carbon footprint than the conventional 4×4.
The Zero Emissions Safari Vehicle is a project that Londolozi has been pioneering for the last 18 months. Starting with 6 months of planning and testing, a test vehicle was imported to complete phase one of the project.
Phase two involved converting an existing Londolozi Land Rover into a prototype electric vehicle with more environmentally friendly batteries. This is currently where Londolozi is at present. We have a fully functional prototype electric Land Rover that is charged by connecting it to a wall plug socket.
The third phase of the project is about further progression towards lighter, longer lasting, eco friendly batteries. This step of the project is also about moving away from the earth’s resources and moving towards solar energy. We are exploring the possibilities of putting up solar panels on the roof of the garages to charge the electric vehicle. This is part of the long term goal of lowering Londolozi’s carbon footprint without affecting the current luxury safari experience.
We are also fortunate to be testing the first Electric Land Rover produced by Land Rover UK and Barkers Performance Products.
Londolozi prides itself on being a constant innovator in the safari industry – always wishing to provide our guests with a fresh experience filled with a warm spirit of hospitality and a deeper purpose to life. You are invited to join us as one of the first safari adventurers to enter the African wilderness in silent observation, enabling a greater connection with sound and silence.
Chobe game reserve in Botswana are also using electric Land Rovers for game viewing. Their vehicles have been converted to electric, I believe without any official involvement from Land Rover.

Unfortunately I can't find any indication that the electric Land Rover is even close to full production. Hopefully this will change soon. I wrote here of the huge benefits of electric game viewing vehicles.

Morocco Reveals the World’s First Electric Pickup Truck

Morocco Reveals the World’s First Electric Pickup Truck
Story on Morocco World News I found from late last year.
National Transportation and Logistic Company (SNTL) in Morocco revealed on Tuesday the world’s latest and newest innovation of the first electric pickup truck ever made. The innovation, which is 100% electric, is also a 100% of Moroccan origin in terms of concept and assembly.

This Moroccan creation can carry up to an 800kg load and has a range of 180-200km and a top speed of 129kmh. It takes seven hours to fully charge using a 220v wall socket or one hour using a supercharger.

The article also talks about a modular design which allows upgrades of a particular component while leaving the rest of the vehicle unchanged. It doesn't mention which components though. Maybe their is provision for the battery to be upgraded at a later stage or perhaps you'll be able to convert from a bakkie to a panel van? The article also mentions that the vehicle has temperature control to keep goods at a constant temperature, this makes me think that a refrigerated compartment instead of the load bed might be one option they'll make available.

The article says initially the truck will initially be available in Europe. Hopefully they'll also look at making it available on their own continent. Small pick-up trucks are ubiquitous in Africa and an electric one with it's low fuel and maintenance costs will surely be a success on the continent.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Hydrogen-powered cars to flood the streets by 2020 [Hi-Tech]

Hydrogen-powered cars to flood the streets by 2020 [Hi-Tech]
An article full of misinformation from Africa News
Soon, driving cars will not be the same again as car manufacturers are developing hydrogen-powered vehicles to flood the streets by 2020.
So far the evidence suggests this will not be the case. As of 2016 there were only 23 hydrogen filling stations in the US for fuel cell vehicles, mostly in California as opposed to 15,774 electric charging stations. Of course this doesn't include home charging units or indeed every plug socket that can also be used to charge an electric vehicle.
Big name car manufacturers like Honda, Toyota and Hyundai among others, are investing in hydrogen-powered vehicles because they are more environmentally friendly compared to the electric-powered vehicles.
Actually only Honda, Toyota and Hyundai are producing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles at present. Indeed Mercedes Benz are decreasing their investment in fuel cell technology in favour of fully electric vehicles. They are not more environmentally friendly than electric cars, in fact they use roughly 2.4 times more energy than a fully electric vehicle.
They take just three minutes to refuel, making them cheaper; and they can go up-to 350 miles at a top speed of 186 miles-per-hour. 
The longest range fuel cell vehicle is the Toyota Mirai which has a range of 312 miles. Of course with only 23 hydrogen filling stations in the US and 20 of them in California, the chances of driving from California to anywhere else are about nil. The top speed of the Mirai is also only 108mph.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Tesla Model 3 Caught Completely Undisguised, Showing Interior

Tesla Model 3 Caught Completely Undisguised, Showing Interior
Spy shots from Motor1.com of the forthcoming Tesla Model 3, which will be coming to South Africa sometime after the middle of 2018. Click here to see all the images.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Tesla boss promises more of the same thing

Tesla boss promises more of the same thing
Article from Fudzilla analyzing the recent tweets from Tesla boss Elon Musk regarding the upcoming Model 3. Among the countries due to get the most affordable Tesla is South Africa. The Model 3 will reportedly have at least a 335km battery range and the base model will cost about $35,000 (just under R500,000).

Of interest to South Africans were the tweets regarding the right hand drive version of the Model 3.
Two of Musk’s more notable details when discussing Model 3 characteristics on Twitter were the implementation of a right-hand drive model for British, South African, Indian, East Asian, Australian and Japanese customers, and the possibility of Performance models after the initial release. When the first Model S vehicles were released just over four years ago, they all featured rear-wheel drive and standard left-hand drive. The right-hand option was released two years later in 2014, though Tesla says the wait will only be until next summer for the Model 3.
Next summer will presumably be Summer 2018 (northern hemisphere edition) as it will only be July 2017 at the earliest before the left hand drive variant of the Model 3 starts populating the roads of North America. Sometime from June next year then, one can presume that the right hand drive Model 3's will appear in the appropriate markets. I'd guess they will be released in the territories where Tesla is already established first before they release to the new markets such as South Africa and India, so it could well be 2019 or 2020 before we see the Model 3 in South Africa.

Friday, March 31, 2017

That dream of mine could become a reality

That dream of mine could become a reality
Wesley Diphoko writes for IOL about his hopes for an African electric car and a synopsis of the attempts so far in producing one.
I have a dream that one day I will be “driven” by an African car, designed, manufactured and owned by an African. Elon Musk almost made this dream a reality with the Tesla car. 
Read the rest of the article here.

VW to launch ride hailing in Rwanda as part of Africa expansion

VW to launch ride hailing in Rwanda as part of Africa expansion
Reuters article from December I sort of missed, well I remember seeing it but for some reason I didn't pay much attention. Volkswagen are planning a ride hailing service similar to Uber in Rwanda using electric vehicles.
Volkswagen, which is developing electric vehicles and new services as it tries to put its diesel emissions scandal behind it, said on Thursday it had signed a memorandum of understanding in Kigali, the Rwandan capital. Volkswagen expanded into ride-hailing in May, when it invested $300 million in Gett, a firm which seeks to outmanoeuvre Uber by refusing to apply "surge" pricing at peak traffic times. The German company also said it would look at using electric versions of the VW Golf in the Rwandan mobility services business.
Volkswagen are planning to also set up a production facility in Rwanda, there is no mention of electric car production for non-ride hailing purposes. It would stand to reason though if they're going to be making electric cars there then they'll make them available to everyone.
Volkswagen said it had also agreed to set up a vehicle production facility in Rwanda, deepening its local manufacturing operation in Africa where it expects vehicle sales to grow by 40 percent within the next five years. Volkswagen has been producing cars in Africa since 1951, when it started making the VW Beetle in South Africa.
Not only are VW going to be producing vehicles in Rwanda, they've also opened an assembly plant in Kenya.
VW this week said it would start making the Polo Vivo in Thika, re-opening a car assembly plant in Kenya after a four-decade hiatus. The German carmaker assembled cars in Kenya in the 1960s and 1970s. The VW assembly plant will begin with the Vivo model and expand to a range of vehicles, with the first car expected to be produced before the end of the year, officials said. 
No mention of electric vehicle production here either but as it says in the first quoted paragraph, VW are investing large amounts in electric vehicles and charging infrastructure, largely brought about as penance for the Dieselgate scandal. Hopefully this enthusiasm for battery power will overflow from the US and European markets into the African continent. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Most want 400km from an electric car

Most want 400km from an electric car
Almost two weeks ago I wrote about a study by Deloitte about how South Africans feel about advanced technology in vehicles. The report I linked to stated that 55% of consumers questioned wanted a 400km plus range in an electric car. I concluded from that, despite the lack of information to back my hypothesis up, that 45% of motorists would be satisfied with shorter range electric vehicles.

Today I found an article on the same study at IOL which revealed a few more statistics from the study.
A Deloitte Global Automotive Consumer Study found that 54 percent of consumers wanted a minimum distance of 400km from a fully charged vehicle, 24 percent chose 240km to 320km, and 22 percent 80km to 160km.
This indicates that almost a quarter of respondents to the survey would be content with the range offered by the two electric vehicles currently available in South Africa, the Nissan Leaf with a maximum range of 135km and the BMW i3 that can go 160km on a single charge. That's pretty significant. About the same amount of those questioned would be happy with 240km to 320km, electric vehicles with this range should be here in the next year or so. The next generation Nissan Leaf reportedly will have over a 300km range and likewise the Tesla Model 3 which will arrive at some point after it's worldwide release later this year.

Other new details in this article refer to autonomous driving.
The study found that 47 percent of South African consumers wanted limited self-driving technology, while only 39 percent were interested in full self-driving vehicles.
Personally I think it's going to be longer than many people are predicting before there are truly fully autonomous vehicles on the roads. Not only has the technology have to be 100% safe and reliable, traffic regulations and insurance policies will also have to change to incorporate self driving vehicles. I think in South Africa and indeed many developing countries the challenges for autonomous vehicles will be even greater with unpaved roads, pot holes and general lack of obedience when it comes to the rules of the road being some of the obstacles to overcome.

I'm all for any autonomous features that will help make the roads a safer place and I think we will see more and more autonomy added gradually, eventually one day the autonomy will take over all the driving responsibilities.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Where should Tesla place their Superchargers in South Africa?

When Tesla launches the Model 3 in South Africa, probably sometime in the next year or two, they are
undoubtedly going to set up a network of their Supercharger fast charging stations. In every other market they've entered they have provided the charging infrastructure along with the battery powered vehicles. Presumably there will be Superchargers in the big cities of South Africa and the suburban sprawl that surrounds them. Where will they be positioned though on the freeways linking the major metropolitan areas? I thought it would be a nice idea to try and predict the Supercharger positioning on the major routes.

Bear in mind the Model 3 which is the first Tesla model we will see in South Africa, will have a range of at least 210 miles which is about 335km. Recent reports though indicate the range may be even more than this, presumably exceeding the 380km battery range of it's rival the Chevy Bolt. As it currently takes a Tesla Model S 40 minutes to charge to 80% full and another 35 minutes for the final 20%, it makes sense that the Superchargers should be within 80% of the maximum range which is 268km, so not to make stops longer than 40 minutes. 40 minutes seems like the perfect amount of time to stretch ones legs a bit, get something to drink and eat and make oneself comfortable for the next leg of the journey. For this exercise I will make sure no too charging stations are further apart than 268km so no stop should take longer than 40 minutes.
  1. Johannesburg to Cape Town (1398km)
    A journey that many people split into two days with a stop off for the night on the way. If you were wanting to do it in one day in an electric car then you'd really need Tesla's latest Model S with 500km plus battery range. The route is almost entirely along the N1 freeway. Here are where I think the Superchargers could go.

    1. Kroonstad (207km from Johannesburg)Roughly half way between Johannesburg and Bloemfontein makes it an obvious choice.
    2. Bloemfontein (212km from Kroonstad)The capital city of the Free State and the sixth largest city in South Africa
    3. Colesburg (235km from Bloemfontein)Colesberg is a town with 17,354 inhabitants in the Northern Cape province of South Africa, located on the main N1 road from Cape Town to Johannesburg.
    4. Richmond (146km from Colesburg)Bit of a shorter leg as the next major town is Beaufort West and that would possibly be too far in one go from Colesburg. Anyway, maybe only a 20 minute charge to 50% would be necessary while sipping on a coffee at this point.
    5. Beaufort West (183km from Richmond)Beaufort West is a town in the Western Cape province in South Africa. It is the largest town in the arid Great Karoo region, and is known as the "Capital of the Karoo"
    6. Laingsburg (199km from Beaufort West and 264km from Cape Town)The last charging point before Cape Town. 

    So six stops of 40 minutes would add about four hours onto what would be almost a fourteen hour drive. If you split the journey over two days then it would be three stops per day, what you'd probably do in any ICE vehicle anyway. You'll need to stop to stretch your legs and refreshments whatever energy source is propelling your trip, so why not charge at the same time.
  2. Durban to Johannesburg (568km)Probably one of the busiest long distance routes in South Africa. Half distance is Harrismith which is a bit further than 268km from both cities, so we'll have to make two stops on our way.
    1. Van Reenen (269km from Durban)Okay 1km over our limit. However a good place to recharge if you're going to Johannesburg or to Bloemfontein from Durban.
    2. Heidelberg (253km from Van Reenen and 52km from Johannesburg)Quite close to Johannesburg for the final recharge. It will allow you to carry on to Pretoria or any of the outlying suburbs without any range anxiety though.

    Most people will stop for a meal break on their way between these two cities in any event. The last stop at Heidelberg can just be a quick 20 minute charge to get into Johannesburg. You'd probably need to stop for petrol there anyway.
  3. Durban to Bloemfontein (657km)The route from Durban to Bloemfontein and beyond to Cape Town as per route 1.

    1. Van Reenen (269km from Durban)As per the Durban to Johannesburg route.
    2. Senekal (193km from Van Reenen and 178km from Bloemfontein)Senekal is a town situated on the banks of the Sand River in the eastern part of the Free State province of South Africa. It was named after Commandant FP Senekal.

    Again a two stop journey for a Model 3, probably a two stop journey for most drivers.
  4. Bloemfontein to Port Elizabeth (654km)A similar length route to that between Durban and Bloemfontein
    1. Colesburg (235km from Bloemfontein)As per route 1 before we leave the N1.
    2. Cradock (200km from Colesburg and 244km from Port Elizabeth)Cradock is a town in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, in the upper valley of the Great Fish River, 250 kilometres by road northeast of Port Elizabeth.

    Two forty minute breaks to refresh during a seven hour journey, again nothing out of the ordinary for any motorist.
  5. Johannesburg to Nelspruit (341km)Mbombela, formerly Nelspruit, is the capital of South Africa’s Mpumalanga Province. It’s a gateway to Kruger National Park, home to elephants, zebras, rhinos and other wildlife.
    1. Middelburg (163km from Johannesburg and 188km from Nelspruit)Perfect half way point for motorists from Gautang on their way to Mpumulanga.
Obviously this still leaves plenty of gaps but for a start would cover some of the more popular motoring routes in the country. See the map below for my predicted positioning of the first South African Tesla Supercharger stations.
Future Tesla Supercharger stations in South Africa?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Nissan LEAF to showcase unique energy transfer capability tailored for South Africa

Nissan LEAF to showcase unique energy transfer capability tailored for South AfricaAutomotive World publish what I presume is a press release from Nissan.
Nissan, in partnership with the uYilo e-Mobility program in South Africa, is to demonstrate its revolutionary technology that allows power stored in electric vehicles to be used in a range of home and commercial applications. The world’s best-selling electric vehicle, the Nissan LEAF – the only commercial electric vehicle used for bi-directional energy transfer capability – is being used in a uYilo field test program to demonstrate and develop Nissan’s award-winning charger technology in South Africa.
This technology I can really see having lots of applications in South Africa. Plugging the car into your home, you'd be able to draw on the energy stored in the vehicles battery. This power can be either used to help power things in your home or also fed back into the national power grid. This could really help with the peak electricity demand in the early evenings.
The technology has been further developed to deliver V2G, allowing energy in the battery to be traded with municipal and energy utilities to increase capacity, while also providing the opportunity to stabilize the grid during peak electricity usage. 
If motorists plugged their cars in when they got home in the evening they would utilise whatever power they have in their battery to help power appliances in their home, that would help relieve the strain on the electricity network at peak demand time. Then later on when electricity demand is less the flow could be reversed and the vehicle can charge overnight.

This is another potential benefit of electric vehicles. The article also mentions the biggest benefit to the motorist.
A 2015 study, for example, found that running an all-electric LEAF for a year costs
R18, 000 less than a petrol car, based on the average South African annual mileage of 30,000 kilometers.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Living with a Leaf

Living with a Leaf
Great piece on Linkedin from one of South Africa's leading electric car advocates Carel SnymanCarel started driving the all-electric Nissan Leaf in October 2014 and in this article he reports back on his experience during the first 28 months.

Carel explains that he uses his Leaf for his daily 28km commute and all his business trips. He drives roughly 1,500km per month. It's been mentioned before on this blog that the cost of charging an electric vehicle is roughly a fifth of what it'd cost to go the same distance in an ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle. Carel has managed even better returns over the 42,000km in his Leaf.

Energy (electricity) cost per month is R19,35 for every 100km (compared to R117 for every 100km for a similar petrol car[1]) or R290 per month (compared to R1755 per month for petrol). 

He also compares the overall cost including purchase price between his Leaf and an equivalent sized ICE vehicle. Despite costing maybe R100,000 more to purchase, the savings in fuel has bought the price per km down to almost the same as an ICE vehicle. This is after only two years and four months. After five years the electric Leaf will have saved the owner R115,000. That figure as far as I see doesn't take into account the saving on maintenance and service costs. Carel takes his Leaf for a free Nissan check up every 15,000km and so far (after 42,000km) there have been no costs in maintenance. As the vehicle uses regenerative braking there is virtually no wear on the brakes.

Interestingly he finds that 90-100km is the most economical cruising speed on the freeway in the Leaf. That is the same speed I stay at on my commute to work, I find my Kia Rio 1.2 uses considerably less fuel at that pace than if I was doing 120km.

When motorists realise just how much they can save in fuel costs with an electric vehicle is when I believe demand and sales will really take off. When your neighbour or work colleague tells you he's paying R400 a month on electricity to charge his vehicle while you're spending R2,000 on petrol every month, you're going to take notice. As the price of electric cars decreases and they get down to around the same price as comparative ICE vehicles, then the potential saving in fuel costs will be even more tempting for the buyer. Add to that not having to fork out for an expensive service every 15,000km or so and the savings from purchasing an electric car appear even more appetising.

Like I have mentioned in this blog before, Carel also stresses the need for charging infrastructure.
EV users should charge whenever they park at a destination – so all destinations (places of work, shopping, services, meetings and home should have a charge point to top-up while the car is parked
This is exactly what is needed. Unlike ICE vehicles that you have to fill up with fuel at a petrol station, an electric car can charge anywhere there's electricity. You'll charge wherever you park and while you're at work or doing shopping or eating in a restaurant your electric car will be topping up it's battery. Business owners should see the offering of charge points for their customers as a way of attracting EV owners to use their establishment, similar to the way they offer wifi to customers at the moment.

Carel also explains how the use of solar energy can provide us with a truly clean, renewable and cheap energy source for our transport system. Please go and read the full article here.

Electric Car Superstar Podcast Episode 175 - SA must embrace electric vehicles now or fall behind

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Tesla Model 3: Autopilot is most popular option among South African reservation holders

Thanks to this article at Electrek for leading me to this graphic  from Model3Tracker.info showing the most desired options among Tesla Model 3 reservation holders worldwide. There's quite some difference from country to country in what options are most popular.

Interestingly the most popular option among South African reservation holders is Autopilot. This correlates with the Deloitte survey I wrote about on Sunday. That survey found that the desire for self driving vehicles was greater among South African consumers than it was in the UK and Germany.

There is no indication as far as I can tell of how many South Africans have put down their $1,000 deposit so far to reserve a Tesla Model 3 or when exactly we can expect it to be available here.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Motorburn | You can now rent BMW i3 from Europcar in Cape Town

Motorburn | You can now rent BMW i3 from Europcar in Cape Town
You can now rent BMW i3 from Europcar in Cape Town. Article from 19th December 2016 written by Hadlee Simons.
“We have introduced the fully-electric, 0% emissions BMW i3 to our fleet, with sustainability in mind and looking at future trends in mobility. The BMW i3 is a unique, cost effective and innovative vehicle option for our customers,” said Jody Naidoo, Divisional Fleet Procurement Executive for Europcar, in a BMW SA press statement. 
This is a great idea. Not only allowing visitors to enjoy driving about Cape Town in a clean and quiet manner, it's also possibly giving people their first taste of electromobility. It's a fairly inexpensive method to try out an electric car for a day or two, to see perhaps if it fits your motoring needs.

I'm thinking right now if I needed to rent a car and there was an electric option, I would take it. As long as it wasn't priced ridiculously. It would allow me to experience an electric car which otherwise is unlikely to happen until I'm ready to replace my present ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle, which is probably still several years off.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Celebrating 50,000kM in our all electric car!

Celebrating 50,000kM in our all electric car! Capetonian Mark Becker takes us for a ride in his Nissan Leaf.

Nissan Leaf spotted in Hillcrest

Probably the same vehicle I spotted two or three weeks back on the freeway. It was parked outside my workplace. I would have liked to speak to the driver but they were just pulling away as I noticed it, hence the rather rushed picture.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Future of Automotive Technologies

Future of Automotive Technologies
Here is the report by Deloitte I wrote about in an earlier today via a Business Tech article. It gives a list of the key findings of the study.
That doesn't surprise me. South Africans seem very susceptible to trends in technology.When a new technology comes out it seems to replace the old in a very short space of time. Vinyl records didn't last long in the shops once CD's became popular and record shops have almost completely disappeared (apart from those who have greatly diversified) entirely now that people carry around MP3's on one device or another. The same thing happened with digital cameras replacing film cameras on the shelves and camera phones more or less spelling the end for most camera shops.
Who wants to drive when you could be playing dominoes instead?
This maybe is an indication of how South Africans maybe expect their vehicle to be an appliance to serve a need rather than something they'd own for the driving experience. In UK and Germany there is an efficient and reliable public transport system so a car is far from a necessity. In South Africa, public transport is not as reliable and encompassing as much of Europe and owning your own car is certainly a big benefit.
As per the previous point. If a vehicle is sought more as a necessity than for the thrill of driving, then it makes sense that ease of use would rank highly in importance. The more automated a vehicle is the easier it will be to use.
Again no great surprises. If you were to ask South Africans what make their camera is then I'd expect most to say Apple or Samsung. Traditional camera manufacturers are left chasing niche markets while cellphones take the vast majority of photos these days.
I'm actually surprised this figure is so high. Do 20% of South Africans really use ride sharing services every week? An interesting indication of the direction personal transport is going in the country.
From personal experience I know of someone who has sold his car because it is cheaper for him to use Uber to get to and from work than it was for him to pay the insurance premiums on his car. I'm sure this is true for lots of people who are only doing short journeys in their vehicle.
 I don't really see how this could be different than sharing data with any other entity, perhaps the only real difference is the car manufacturer will most likely have details of your vehicles exact location at all times.
See the post I made earlier today in response to these two concerns. There is also an infographic illustrating the survey results, you can download.

Why South Africa is not ready for electric cars

Why South Africa is not ready for electric cars
Business Tech reports on a study by financial services firm, Deloitte, on how South Africans feel about advanced in-vehicle technology and electric cars.
According to the South Africans surveyed, 55% of motorists are willing to wait a maximum of only 1 hour to fully charge an all-battery powered electric vehicle. In comparison, it currently takes 3-4 hours to fully charge an electric vehicle at super-charging stations and 6-8 hours at home.
Lets look at this a bit closer. 55% of motorists are willing to wait a maximum of one hour to charge their vehicle. That's understandable, people who do a lot of high mileage might not have the time to wait for long charges. At present there are two electric cars on sale in South Africa, the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3 will both take 4-5 hours to fully charge. With ranges of far less than 200km, they're not the type of vehicle suitable for high daily mileage anyway.

Fast charging and longer ranges are on the way though. When Tesla launch the Model 3 in South Africa, they are certain to also set up a network of their Supercharger charging points as they have done in every other country they sell their battery powered vehicles in. Tesla's Supercharger stations can charge to 100% in 75 minutes or 50% in 20 minutes.

The Model 3 range will be at least 320km which is just over half the distance  from Durban to Johannesburg. If you were driving that route you'd stop and charge at about half distance and while you're charging grab something to eat and drink, just like you would if you were doing the same journey in an ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle.

The other solution for motorists who want an electric car but need a longer range than what an electric car can offer right now, is a plug-in hybrid. These have both a battery powered electric motor and a petrol engine. Typically you will plug it in overnight and when you start it, it will first use the battery power to drive the electric motor. Once the batteries are exhausted the petrol engine will take over. The Chevy Volt is one of the most popular plug-in hybrids, unfortunately it is not available in South Africa yet. It has an electric range of 85km and a combined range using both propulsion methods of 680km. This offers the best of both worlds, cheap electric mobility for commuting and short trips and long ICE range for cross country journeys.

The survey also indicates that 45% of motorists in the country would be satisfied with the current longer electric vehicle charging times. The current electric cars on sale in South Africa are the Nissan Leaf with a maximum range of 135km and the BMW i3 which can get you 160km on a single charge. In an earlier article I concluded that for my motoring needs these ranges would be sufficient. These ranges would probably cover the majority of motorists daily mileage. If you're not going to exceed these distances in the day then you can just let your vehicle charge overnight and it will be ready to go in the morning.
In addition more than half want a minimum distance of more than 400 kilometers from a fully charged electric vehicle while studies show that the majority of electric vehicles currently on the market can only handle between 120 km – 320 km on a single charge. 
Again it's saying more than half so we can seduce that almost half would be happy with current ranges. Electric cars are coming out with close to or greater than 400km ranges. The Chevy Bolt EV has an all-battery range of 383km and the Tesla Model S can go between 390-539km depending on the model variant. I don't know if and when South Africa will get these models but as I mentioned above, we will be getting the Tesla Model 3 at some point with it's 320km+ range.

Most importantly the technology is improving, batteries are becoming cheaper, range is getting longer and charging times are getting shorter. Ask the same questions in a year or twos time and their will inevitably be a swing in favour of electromobility.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Cape Town to use electric bicycles to fight crime

The City of Cape Town appears to be leading the way when it comes to electromobility in South Africa. Not only are they adding electric busses to their MyCiti fleet, they are also using electric bikes to fight crime around Table Mountain and other parts of the city, reports My Broadband

The electric bikes can reach up to 70kmh and have a range of up to 120km, the battery takes 80 minutes to fully recharge.
Robbie Robberts, Director of Law Enforcement in the City of Cape Town, told Cape Talk that the area around Table Mountain is suffering from criminal activities. It is a massive area to patrol, and to make it easier the City of Cape Town is using e-bikes to assist law enforcement. “The bicycles are a mixture between a motorcycle and a normal bicycle,” said Robberts. He said it is a cost-effective way for the city to increase its patrolling capabilities, and to fight crime around Cape Town.
This sounds like a great idea. Electric bikes are smaller, lighter and cheaper to run than motorcycles. If they're using them off-road, which it appears like they are, then it should be quite easy to pick it up and lift it over obstacles. Also because it's electric it will be almost silent so their is less chance it will alert the crooks before the police get close enough to apprehend them. Police can also use them to patrol crowded areas without assaulting pedestrians with noise and air pollution.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

1974 Enfield 8000 electric motor car The first electrically self-powered car in South Africa

The Enfield 8000 was a small two seat electric car car manufactured by Enfield Automotive on the Isle of Wight in the United Kingdom between 1973-1977. The Enfield 8000 had a 6kw electric motor powered by lead acid batteries for a top speed of 77kmh and a maximum range of 64km. It also had a form of regenerative braking.

An example of the Enfield 8000 was brought to South Africa by Haggie Rand in 1974 to promote and expand a chloride battery project. In 1992 it came into the ownership of Mr B. Pollock to
promote the environmental aspect of the electric car. Eskom acquired it in 1994 to start The Electric Vehicle Project. They then donated it to the James Hall Museum of Transport in Johannesburg where it sits on display to this day.

I remember back in the early 1990's reading in a newspaper or seeing something on television about Eskom acquiring an electric car. My memory convinced me it was a Honda Civic but I searched a while back for an electric Honda Civic from the 90's without any luck. Now finally I realise it was quite obviously the Enfield 8000 I remember hearing about. An example of how malleable the human memory can be.

2Life EV & NEV Manufacturers

2Life EV & NEV Manufacturers
2Life Shuttles are a Pretoria firm headed by Adriaan Kruger who supply NEV's (neighbourhood electric vehicles). Their vehicles range from a 2 seat runaround to a 14 seat bus. On their web site they explain how their vehicles fit in to the transport system.
We bring you electric vehicles that are the middle of the road between your traditional golf cart on the one side and your luxury sedan car on the other side. They are often just referred to as Electric Vehicles EV or more commonly nowadays as Neighbourhood Electric Vehicles or NEV. Our Electric cars and Electric shuttles are more advanced in design with a wider wheel base and therefore more stable and thus much safer to drive. As a means of transport on the short haul or for transporting staff and or clients the risk for injury and thus possible liability claims are nullified.
They have a product page with details of the various vehicles they offer.  They are also producing off-road versions of their electric vehicles with one of the intended markets being for game viewing. I reported earlier this month on how Sharmwari Private Game Reserve and Chobe national park in Botswana are already using electric vehicles for game viewing. The 2Life web site expound the benefits of using electric vehicles for this purpose.

We have therefore developed an off road version of our standard 4 seat model electric car. Other models will follow suit when the demand is there. We will also be looking at the 4 X 4 option in the near future for those that have a preference and taste for that. These Electric cars however are the ideal vehicles for game viewing at lodges as they are quiet and non obtrusive, apart from being eco friendly vehicles.It is also ideal for patrols on the perimeter of security estates.

2Life can be contacted at +27 (0)123615924 or via the form on their contact page.

Opel Astra 1.4T Enjoy claims Wesbank South African Car Of The Year title

Opel Astra 1.4T Enjoy claims Wesbank South African Car Of The Year title
Media Update's Adam Wakefield was at Kyalami for Wesbank South African Car of the Year Awards. Though there was no mention of any EV's (electric vehicles) or even hybrids being in contention for the award, WesBank CEO Chris de Kock had a few positive things to say about EV's.
De Kock noted that the high pace of change and innovation within the motoring industry is what made it exciting. The industry was faced with new challenges this century, not least the amount of energy being wasted by internal combustion engines. De Kock said alternative energy vehicles are "destined to solve this problem", with the "business case for electric cars growing by the day". "South Africa will not be left behind when this new electric technology takes over from the combustion engine."
Wesbank not only have been active in the auto industry for their vehicle loans but they've been a long time sponsor of local motorsport and as in this case supporting the South African car of the year awards. It's pleasing to know that such an important player in the automotive industry recognises the importance and inevitable increased popularity of electric vehicles.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Electric delivery van

One of the most obvious applications, in my opinion, for an electric vehicle is for courier and delivery services. As the cost of petrol or diesel no doubt accounts for a big portion of the costs for such companies, electric vehicles would generate huge savings.

Even with the raise in electricity tariffs in recent years in South Africa, it's still up to 80% cheaper to run an electric powered rather than an ICE (internal combustion engine) powered vehicle.

I asked a courier driver today, who does daily deliveries in and around Durban, what the usual daily mileage for the vans in his company is? He said between 250-350km. That is well beyond the capabilities of any electric van being produced now. The Nissan e-NV200 (which isn't even available in South Africa) has a range of about 170km. Not really enough for the large spread out cities we have in this country.

That range of 250-350km is though something well within the reach of some current electric vehicles. All Tesla vehicles and the Chevy Bolt have a range of greater than 350km. Many more electric vehicles, with 350km plus range, from other manufacturers are due to become avalable in the not too distant future. It shouldn't be a huge technical challenge to put a power train, capable of the same sort of 350km plus range, in a van. Seeing as there would be more space in a van, it should be quite easy to fit in a bigger battery for even greater range. 

As almost all deliveries happen during regular working hours the vans would have the whole night to steadily charge without any need for any fast chargers. The driver just needs to plug his vehicle in after he gets back to the depot after his last delivery in the evening and then in the morning his van will be fully charged and ready for him. 

The savings in fuel cost could actually be even greater for vehicles that spend a lot of time on busy city streets in stop-start traffic, like many delivery vans. Unlike an ICE vehicle that continues to burn fuel even while it's at a standstill, an electric vehicle doesn't draw any current from it's battery while it's stuck in a traffic jam or waiting at the traffic lights. For a commercial vehicle that is always on the road, that company would be saving money by using an electric vehicle every minute of every day.

The other benefits of course are cheaper and less frequent maintenance as well as zero emissions and much less noise to make the immediate environment more pleasant for pedestrians and cyclists.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Electric Car Superstar Podcast Episode 172 - Why Does Honda's Electric Car Have Just 80 Miles of Range?

Electric Car Superstar Podcast Episode 172 - Why Does Honda's Electric Car Have Just 80 Miles of Range?
Listen to myself narrate a news story on the Honda Clarity EV for the Electric Car Superstar and hear his opinion on this forthcoming electric vehicle.

Great Wall Motor to invest $8.6bn in green tech in decade: CEO

Great Wall Motor to invest $8.6bn in green tech in decade: CEO
The company probably better known in South Africa by it's acronym GWM is bolstering research and development in electric, plug-in hybrids and fuel cell vehicles. The Chinese car manufacturer is also planning on expanding it's operations in South Africa. This is according to an interview with Great Wall Motor CEO Wang Fengying at Nikkei Asian Review.