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Electric cars charging for a century


THIS week’s Autodealer has been all about the latest electric and hybrid vehicles on the South African scene. The technology is becoming commonplace across the world and with the introduction of several models to our market it will soon be commonplace here too.

→ Address the candle in the room...

Onto a grievance that many will/have expressed at the launch of electric vehicles. I’ve heard something along the lines of: “How can we have electric cars when our electricity supply is so inconsistent and will be so, for the foreseeable future?”

While I personally see the future of mobility coming from the likes of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, I cannot dismiss electric vehicles and their relevance within the current market. It would be quite short-sighted of us to see our current problems as hindrances for the future of mobility.

These electric vehicles may be expensive to buy now but the advances in battery technology and perhaps incentives by government to own these vehicles, we may see cleaner-running vehicles on our roads.

The fact is, these vehicles can now be charged to a level where they can be used for a couple of days in around three hours. Load-shedding occurs during peak times and as with our smartphones we would charge our cars when they’re not needed, out of peak times when the power, generally speaking, remains on.

Then what would happen if we all went out and bought electric vehicles? The off-peak times that we currently abide by would become peak again. There appears to be as many benefits as there are disadvantages to the electric car ownership debacle.

Anyway, where did the electrical revolution begin?

Contrary to what many people may think, electric vehicles have been around for more than a century already. When searching for information on the topic I found a very informative article on

The article states that around three percent of new vehicle sales are electric vehicles with this said to reach seven percent worldwide by 2020, according to a report by Navigant Research.

The first electric car is difficult to pinpoint however, as the article explains, it did come from the 1800s in Western Europe and the USA. These first vehicles were quite crude and the really significant inventions only came in the middle of the 19th Century. In the US, a man named William Morrison produced an electric wagon capable of 14 miles per hour or around 23km/h.

At the turn of the 20th Century we had several electric vehicles and even reports of electric taxis in New York.

→ Watt happened?

At one point there were electric, steam and petrol-powered vehicles being sold and then all of a sudden petrol just seemed the way forward. Steam had serious drawbacks; it took forever to get the vehicle going and when it did, it would have to stop to be topped up with water.

So what prompted the fall of the electric car, then? We have already seen that petrol-powered cars were nearly impossible to drive until the configuration resembled what we recognise as vehicle operation today. The electric cars were more simple - so why?

→ One model “T”(o) rule them all

Henry Ford’s mass-produced Model T of 1908, made the petrol car affordable while providing the public with a mass-produced car. The final blow was the invention (rather ironically) of the electric, started by Charles Kettering, which meant no more cranking and subsequently, more petrol cars.

→ What do you think of electric vehicles?

Electricity supply gets South Africans seething about as much as the word “e-toll” so we’d love to hear your thoughts on electric vehicles. Would you buy one? If so, why? If not, please share with us.


Article written by Sean Nurse
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