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|
|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|
|Depreciation||6 014||4 414|
|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.