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When you look at different markets around the world and the current predictions for electric vehicle sales towards 2030, there are a few countries that are clear frontrunners. In Europe, you have Norway, which currently has the highest EV ownership per capita in the world. Then, of course, you have China, which is approaching nearly two million cars on the road today, with hundreds of new automakers popping up to capitalise on the country’s new verticals.

In total, EVs are predicted to take up around a third of all new car sales by the end of the decade, which is promising news for all. However, there are still areas that are still a long way off this change. One being, on the surface, South Africa.

This is according to Generation.e and AutoTrader, which have teamed up on a new Electric Vehicle Buyer Survey that illustrates the country and its citizen’s views on EVs. The survey follows a report by the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition and the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa, which looked at the consumer vehicles, commercial vehicles, public transport, battery production and government support for the general development of EVs.

To find out more about the survey, I speak with Ben Pullen, CEO at Generation.e, during the company’s second Smarter Mobility Africa event.

“Generation.e, through its Smarter Mobility summits and Electric Vehicle Road Trips, gets a lot of first hand engagement with a range of stakeholders who have experienced electric vehicles,” says Pullen. “We see how people react to electric vehicles, they experience that wow factor when they feel the acceleration, the smoothness, the performance, and control. It’s like love at first sight! The same has happened in Africa when we ran the Electric Vehicle Road Trip Africa and the Smarter Mobility Africa summit. There was an awesome wow factor.”

However, he says, it is extremely difficult to express this excitement to government and businesses, not to mention actually convincing consumers to go electric themselves. To overcome these issues, the Generation.e team wanted to work with the country’s most prolific vehicle marketplace.

“We were keen to survey South African car buyers to understand exactly what people think around electric vehicles,” he says. “To do this we partnered up with AutoTrader which is South Africa’s biggest digital automotive marketplace and is, therefore, has the perfect car buying audience to get the freshest insights.”

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Getting South Africans in EVs

Perhaps the most significant findings of the report are that only 2% of consumers in South Africa own an EV, with 13% of people ever getting the chance to drive one. It is easy to convince someone to go electric by getting them in an EV, but this is arguably the hardest step.

Despite this, EVs will gain in popularity with the right support. And that is exactly what AutoTrader and Generation.e are focusing on. The survey shines a spotlight on the gap between consumer perception and industry assumptions to assist stakeholders such as dealers, manufacturers, marketers and government bodies to drive action-based discussions.

“The hope is that these insights lead to a tomorrow that is greener, cleaner and mutually beneficial to the automotive industry, and most importantly, the South African car buying consumer,” says Pullen.

Like the rest of the world, the main issue for most when thinking about buying an EV is the charging infrastructure. In the survey, 61% of respondents cited charging infrastructure as the biggest disadvantage of EVs, while 60% of respondents also believed that charging time is a major disadvantage.

However, the biggest surprise was that only 26% of respondents reported that range anxiety was a major disadvantage, something that leads most surveys as the number one issue for swapping the internal combustion engine for an electric motor. 

Of course, the respondents also said that they would only purchase an EV with a high range; in this case, above 300km. 39% said that an EV needs to have a range of 300 to 500km for them to consider purchasing one and, in more extreme cases, 44% of respondents said that they would require more than 500km of range. Despite the latter being way more than needed, it is obvious that drivers want to feel a sense of security when they go on long drives.

As you can expect, another major concern of consumers in the past has been the high purchase price of EVs. Despite this, 67% of respondents stated that they would be willing to pay more for an EV upfront, given that running costs were lower than a petrol or diesel vehicle.

Moving forward, nearly 70% of respondents expressed their desire to purchase an EV in the future, with only 7% against the idea of EV ownership, showing a promising future for South Africa’s emerging EV market. The next five years will be very interesting for the region.


Launching South Africa’s EV Movement

AutoTrader and Generation.e’s vision is to kick off a wider EV movement in Africa, combining the latest EV Buyer Survey with previous research in the country to bring down costs for importing these vehicles, getting South Africans to make the switch and provide the appropriate infrastructure to help operate them as easy as possible. 

“There has been a lot of research in South Africa around the impact of electric vehicles on the economy and environment. This brought positive findings such as the ability to reduce South Africa’s largest import cost which is oil at $11bn in 2017,” says Pullen. 

“However, what was missing is a real understanding of what car buyers actually thought when it came to EVs. Therefore, we hope that the findings will help business and government to implement policies and strategies that respond to car buyer demand.”

With 74% of respondents stating that they would purchase an electric vehicle within the next five years, this change could be happening sooner than first thought. Yes, the continent is lagging behind somewhat, but change is driven by society which, through this survey, seems more than ready for EVs. 

Quite simply, South African’s are ready for EVs. It is now time for the industry to make this a reality.

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