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Green cars aren’t that clean in SA

Eskom’s high emissions, together with high import taxes and steep prices, detract from the allure of electric vehicles.
Based on Eskom data, the little BMW i3 indirectly generates more than 13.5kg of carbon dioxide emissions for every 100km it travels. Image: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

The specifications of electric cars shows a vast improvement in their efficiency and performance in just a few years. The cars are faster, have longer ranges and boast more features, while most of them are as sexy as supermodels.

Unfortunately, sales of hybrid and electric cars are growing much more slowly here than in the rest of the world. Motorists are apparently not sold on the practicality of an electric car yet as we travel longer distances in SA and charging points are still few and far between.

Then there’s the price issue – fully electric and hybrid cars are very expensive relative to the very big range of traditional cars in SA.

In addition, people who care about the environment and know how to work a calculator would have realised that an electric car does not offer the best green solution in SA.

The saying that a green car only moves emissions from a car’s exhaust pipe to a power station’s chimney is more applicable in SA than any other country in the world.

The highly trained and experienced engineers at extremely competitive motor manufacturers are simply better at building efficient machines than the engineers at Eskom.

Electric cars and hybrids are expensive

According to the car guide published by Car Magazine (CARmag), which shows all the new car models currently available in SA, there are nine manufacturers that offer 48 different models with either electric or hybrid engines.

The cheapest is the rather aged Toyota Prius at more than R500 000, while most have a price tag way higher than R1 million.

Surprisingly, the most expensive electric/petrol car is the Ferrari SF90 Stradale at R10.5 million. It is also the most expensive car listed, except for one Lamborghini that pips it to the post by R750 000. The Ferrari SF90 Stradale is more than R2 million more expensive than its second most expensive sister, the 812 GTS.

Given the price tag, it is safe to assume that running costs are not the prime concern of any prospective SF90 owner. Neither is the environment: Ferrari stuck a 4-litre V8 engine in its green car to ensure a top speed of 340km/h, and it still spews out 15.4kg of CO2 emissions per 100km.

Electric and hybrid car prices
Model Price (R)
Toyota Prius  518 200
Mini Cooper  642 000
Lexus UX250  690 300
BMW i3  721 700
Lexus ES300  789 800
BMW i3 Rex  811 000
Lexus IS300  843 000
Lexus NX300  971 200
Land Rover Discovery Sport 1 197 000
Lexus RX450 1 368 900
Volvo XC90 1 407 000
BMW X5 1 460 000
Jaguar I-Pace 1 717 300
Land Rover Range Rover Sport 1 785 000
BMW 745 1 946 300
Porsche Cayenne 2 019 000
Porsche Cayenne Coupe 2 109 000
Land Rover Range Rover 2 408 300
Porsche Panamera 2 529 000
Porsche Taycan 2 537 000
Ferrari SF90 10 535 300

Source: Data from CARmag

The table includes only the cheapest variant of the different models offered by each manufacturer. For instance, Land Rover offers 18 different variants with hybrid power plants in three model ranges. The Range Rover Vogue hybrid is priced at just above R2.4 million and the most expensive hybrid Range Rover at over R4.5 million.

While proponents of electric and hybrid cars complain about high import taxes – a host of countries subsidise greener cars – the fact is that the prices are very high relative to petrol and diesel cars.

Porsche launched a pure electric car to supplement its earlier hybrids. The cheapest Taycan sells for between R2.5 million and the most expensive for nearly R4 million.

It defies logic that the top of the range Taycan is the second most expensive car offered by Porsche in SA, just R72 000 less than the most desirable Porsche – the ionic 911 Turbo Cabriolet S.

The price comparison holds true for more mundane cars as well. The beautiful BMW i3 is available in pure electric and hybrid versions, priced from R721 000 to R874 000. In comparison, a BMW 118i with a petrol engine is R200 000 cheaper than the little electric car.

The high prices of electric and hybrid cars increases total cost of ownership by a fair margin due to higher interest on a larger loan, more depreciation and higher insurance premiums.

The R200 000 higher price tag on a BMW i3, compared to a lot of her equally desirable sisters, pushes up the monthly instalment by some R3 400 and insurance would be R400 higher. Assuming 10% depreciation in the first year, the BMW i3 would cost its owner R5 467 per month more than the BMW 118i with a petrol engine – before taking it for a drive.

Can lower operating costs perhaps make up the difference?

Petrol price vs electricity tariffs

It is easy to think that electric cars cost nothing to run because drivers don’t need to pay for petrol. The cost of electricity to recharge the car is often hidden in the household’s electricity account, but should be taken into account if running cost is a consideration in deciding whether to buy an electric or a hybrid car.

Comparing the energy cost of the electric BMW i3 with a (more or less similar) diesel and petrol car with the same badge is enlightening.

According to BMW, the i3 uses 13.1 kilowatt hours (kWh) worth of electricity per 100km, while the smaller petrol models burn 7.1 litres of fuel per 100km and the diesels 4.8 litres per 100km.

While fuel prices are known, electricity tariffs are dependent on a few variables. An example of the cost of electricity from Johannesburg residents in a document from a Johannesburg City Council meeting reflect a few prices.

Prepaid customers pay R1.52 per kWh for electricity only and account customers pay R1.45 per unit, excluding basic charges. The example used by the council’s mayoral committee to decide electricity prices also calculated the total price per kWh including basic charges.

Electricity then increases to as much as R3.04 per kWh, the tariff accountants would like to plug into the calculations of running an electric car.

However, one can also argue that households already pay whatever basic charge or availability fee municipalities charge and that it should be seen as a sunk cost. Based on this assumption, an electric car is much cheaper to run than their noisier counterparts.

Energy cost comparison (R)
Fuel Consumption per 100km Price Cost per 100km
BMW i3 Electricity 13.1 litres 1.48 19.39
BMW 118i Petrol 7.1 litres 14.59 103.59
BMW 220d Diesel 4.8 litres 14.25 68.40

Source: Manufacturers’ data, Johannesburg rates, national petrol prices

Unfortunately, the savings are not enough to make up the higher fixed costs of buying an electric car that is some R200 000 more expensive than a comparable car with an internal combustion engine.

On average, motorists drive around 30 000km per annum in SA – a number generally used in the motor industry – equal to 2 500km per month.

An electric car is the cheapest to run at R485 worth of electricity per month and a petrol model the most expensive at nearly R2 600 per month.

Even after this massive saving in fuel, the total cost of owning an electric car is still more than R3 000 per month higher.

Total monthly cost of ownership

Total monthly cost of ownership (R)
BMW i3 BMW 118i
Instalment  12 970 9 540
Insurance  1 153  753
Depreciation  6 014 4 414
Fuel 485 2 589
Total  20 622  17 296

Source: Calculated from manufacturer’s data

Electric cars aren’t that clean in SA

But the kick in the stomach for environmentalists is that electric cars and hybrids are not as environmentally friendly in SA, even if people are willing to pay a premium to help our planet.

Eskom’s latest annual report discloses that its coal-fired power stations emit 1 04kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) for every kWh of electricity it sells.

Thus, our little BMW i3 indirectly generates 13.5kg of CO2 emissions for every 100km it travels. There are a lot of smaller car whose emissions are in the same region as this.

The petrol BMW 118i produces much less CO2 (10.4kg) and the 2-litre diesel engines in many of BMW’s other models produce around 13.5kg CO2 emissions per 100km.

Most medium cars produce much more harmful gases, in the range of 16kg to 25kg per 100km.

The cleanest cars are the cute Fiat 500 models – selling for between R220 000 and R300 000 and producing emissions of less than 9kg per 100km.

At the other end of the scale are the big and heavy SUVs with large engines, pumping out CO2 at a rate of 25kg to 30kg per 100km.

Taking only ownership cost and emissions into account, it makes sense to dump the large expensive vehicles, and to drive as little as possible. But not necessarily an electric or hybrid model.

From a purely environmental view, it would be far more beneficial to get Eskom to reduce its emissions. A small change at a power station would make a bigger difference than the estimated 1 000 electric cars on SA’s roads.




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There’s also the question of what to do with the battery at the end of the electric car’s lifecycle: Does SA have a capability to recycled or dispose of these batteries in an environmentally friendly manner?

The manufacturers would probably have a program for the recycling and possibly get a discount on the next battery. Also remember the technology is improving so you will get greater capacity and efficiency by the time you need to replace the battery – also less damaging materials are coming onto the market soon

Sadly the article does not delve into the more serious issue of the alternative “mining” of all the components making up a battery – such as Cobolt, Lithium etc.
Much of this is mined in a similar method to oil and coal mining and in Rwanda (one of the largest suppliers in the world) child labour is used.
To me it is just mental masturbation to be honest. Substituting one form of environment stripping items for another!!!

Raw materials needed are Graphite and Nickel. A battery typically contains 1% lithium (cobalt is only used in certain cells and yes I agree that child labour should not be allowed, they need to clean up their act). Lots of copper is also used to connect the high current to the motors.

It’s not the car manufacturer’s fault that our electricity is still generated largely by coal. That situation could have been very different if we hadn’t had Jacob Zuma at the helm for almost a decade. The transition to EVs needs to happen in concert with a general transition to renewable energy. Even the current CEO of Eskom acknowledges that.

What this article fails to mention is that it’s entirely possible to generate your own power with rooftop solar arrays which can then charge your EV, if you have control over your own rooftop that is. There is also a dire need in South Africa for more affordable EVs.

Ask Nissan why they aren’t importing the Leaf. I tried and couldn’t get them to commit to an answer. Kia and Hyundai also have EVs in their line-up. If you’re in Europe, you probably now have about 20-30 EVs to choose from, with pretty much every major manufacturer offering at least one. And sales are increasing rapidly.

This country is being left behind, plain and simple.

Sadly the whole of the African Continent is being left behind – not quite sure why though!!!

Interesting math:

Say a carport / garage is 6 x 3 meter = 18 sqm which would give you roughly 3.5kW solar, which in sunny parts would generate 3.5 x 1600h = 5600 kWh per year. Using my actual average of 13.8kWh/100km, that is 40,000km per year of solar for an EV at a cost of roughly R35,000.

One-off R35,000 pays for 25y solar at 40k or a million kilometers

The offset is dead easy to achieve
The cost is a nobrainer at 3.5c/km simple amortization

Still only saving you R6000/year on fuel. And costs you R35,000 to install. The hideous price of the vehicle & thus taxes, depreciation still apply.


Install solar panels and batteries at your residence (and business, if you happen to own the property). This type of installation pays for itself in less than 5.5 years, at current Eskom pricing. The equation becomes ever more favourable as Eskom’s rates inevitably increase. Buy an electric car and charge it from your “free” solar power. Incidentally, also say goodbye to load shedding.

Not quite correct:

1. Many EV owners already have solar, so Eskom cost and Eskom emissions not relevant. The effective cost of solar is about 78c/kWh so my i3 runs about 10c/km.

2. Most SA fuel comes from Sasol which because of coal to fuel process virtually doubles the total actual emissions per km in SA.

3. For me the environmental appeal of EV is the elimination of city smog. Imagine our buses and city delivery trucks have no emissions.

4. Many of the EV have far more advanced standard features than say a standard entry level 118. You would need to add self-parking, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping to that 118 to compare. But anyway, we now live in an era of R900k bakkies and R700k Golf – cars are crazy expensive.

To your last point, that’s so true. So many people state that EVs are too expensive. I challenge you to drive along Rivonia Road on a Saturday afternoon and then onto Waterfall Drive and stop off at the Life Grande Cafe at Waterfall Corner.

You will be gob-smacked at the vehicles you encounter along the way. No shortage of Wabenzis worth well over a million, along with Land Rovers and other SUVs aplenty. People in SA are willing to drop megabucks on cars, IF the brand is right, so this argument that people can’t afford EVs is fallacious.

Wow. Just wow. So you extrapolate the affordability of EV based on a miniscule number of people driving expensive cars on a Saturday afternoon on Rivonia road. Go to the townships, where millions live, and see the age and condition of the vechicles driven there. Hints and tips about installing solar panels and the like based on homes 10 times the size of the dwellings most South-Africans live in, quoting sums equalling a large household’s annual income. All this virtue signalling is sickening, get your heads out of it an deal with the realities of South-Africa and the fact that the “green” movement is in it mainly for the money. All the glorious taxes which will be looted when collected and all the new businesses to be opened, all the inflated tenders waiting. Gil is right, there is nothing noble about the “climate change” movement. It is as avaricious as any other new church and as hungry for congregants.

Wow, it’s like the concept of cradle to grave analysis is verboten in neo-green circles.

Not a bad article, but it forgets to look at the future.
Govt and Eskom is still too slowly but finally changing to more and more renewables. The plans for a privately built and owned coal fired Thabametsi power plant are abandoned.
Both articles clearly indicate that coal fired power is on its way out in sunny SA. This makes the environmental concern of charging one’s vehicle through the grid weaker by the day.
We surely should look into reducing or even scrapping altogether import duties on electric cars. SA car manufacturers should be encouraged to assemble one or more electric cars locally.
Read also

If you consider for a second that petrol/diesel is produced in a factory called a refinery that is using…. drum roll…crude oil + Electricity. In SA nice dirty coal polluting electricity.

Oil needs to be shipped, refined, trucked. How many millions of litres of fuel gets burned before you are able to fill up your tank? What is the impact to the environment for each tank of petrol. Now people make the argument that a small car only produces so much CO2.

People seem to think that petrol just magically comes out of the petrol pump when they do the calculations to compare against battery cars.

Solar panels are cheap, I would not mind charging my car from 25 panels on my roof, makes even more sense now that I am working from home. I cannot wait for affordable electric cars

End of comments.





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