Before that can happen, however, South Africa needs to prepare for the onslaught of electrics heading our way. One has to wonder if Eskom is prepared to charge 10 000 EVs per night, not to mention the obvious lack of available charging points.
It seems as if our government is seriously dragging its feet in setting up any kind of system to ensure the successful implementation of EVs in South Africa. Maybe it’s because they haven’t figured out how to make money out of these vehicles yet. It’s not like the owners will be paying the ridiculous fuel levy or preposterous green tax.
But before I get too comfortable on my soapbox, allow me to introduce you to South Africa’s latest competitor in the currently non-existent all-electric market, the Freedom One.
Most of you may have noticed that the Freedom One looks suspiciously like an old Jeep Grand Cherokee. That’s because it is one and there’s a very good reason for that.
The creator, Antony English decided to use the Grand Cherokee as the base for his design, simply because that’s what he had standing around at the time. The engine on the old Jeep ceased and instead of fixing it up, he decided to use it as a basis for a new electric-conversion company called Freedom Won.
The good news is that you don’t have to have an EV in the shape of an old Jeep. Antony and his team can theoretically convert any car into a fully operational EV, depending on requirements and budget. Have you always wanted an old Alfa GTV, but were afraid of reliability issues? No problem. Buy a ratty old Alfa, rip the engine out and hand it over to these guys.
After a two-month wait, you’ll be silently cruising in one of the most beautiful cars to ever grace our roads.
That’s the basic idea and Freedom One is currently the only vehicle they’ve built.
The first thing you notice about Freedom One is the uprated suspension that was installed to deal with the 200kg weight increase over the standard petrol-powered Grand Cherokee. It uses a 30kW electric motor, powered by a 600V DC battery pack designed with more than 200Nm of torque available at any driving speed. A full charge of five to six hours (three to four hours with high-power charging supply) is needed for every 150km. A manual regenerative braking system is also part of the system, which allows you to charge the batteries while slowing the car down.
Now, before talk performance, let me remind you that a certain amount of compromise is necessary to achieve the sought-after zero litres/100km figure. The compromise here is a rather lethargic turn of speed. Freedom One is at its happiest at 80km/h, but with enough determination and a flat piece of road, you can achieve 130km/h.
As a long-distance commuter, it’s too slow and doesn’t offer enough range. I’m not going to penalise the Freedom One for that, because that’s a problem haunting all of the manufacturers involved in EV projects at the moment. There isn’t a single EV out there that offers the range of a petrol or diesel car. Fact.
As an inner-city commuter, it makes a lot more sense. The average daily commute is nowhere near 150km (unless you’re reading this in Namibia) and on average you can’t travel more than 60km/h.
It’s also much cheaper to charge a car than to fill it up with unleaded or diesel. To fully charge this EV costs somewhere in the region of R20 - a massive saving compared to a car powered by fossil fuel. Don’t forget about the reduction in servicing cost. An electric powertrain can go ages without a service, so you only have to look after the wear-and-tear items like tyres, wipers, shocks, brakes and so on. In the long run, an EV can save you a huge pile of money.
Getting one isn’t as simple as that, however. Banks currently don’t finance a conversion like this, so if you don’t have some R200 000 lying around, you’ll have to apply for a personal loan.
As it currently stands, the Freedom One conversion is nothing more than an expensive niche product for those who can afford it. The batteries alone cost R130 000.
It’s a pity. In essence, the Freedom One project is a very good idea, but one that, for the time being, very few South Africans will buy into. At this point we can only hope for this kind of technology to become more mainstream. As soon as this happens, the technology will become cheaper and more readily available to the average man on the street.
So, is the electric car ready for South Africa? It sure is, albeit in a rather unrefined (at this point) form. The more important question is: is South Africa ready for the electric car? The unfortunate answer is no. People like Antony English are miles ahead. The rest of us still have to catch up.