An Electrifying Future
When it comes to national and regional infrastructure development plans, it is clear that transport offers the potential to be a key enabler for socio-economic growth. Moreover, in the near future, electric cars, self-driving vehicles and drones will form some of the new age modes of transport that will clearly have a significant impact on this sector, for better or worse.
According to Darko Skrbinsek, founder of Future of Transport Consulting, it is clear that for any commercial or trading activity to be successful, mobility for the people and goods involved is vital. It is obvious that a modern economy cannot really function without facilitating the movement and transport of people and goods.
“As the transport infrastructure and service is improved and delivered in an efficient and affordable manner, so it helps to generate more economic activities. Not only is trade made simpler, but it also becomes easier for people to look for jobs,” he says.
“As trading turnaround time is also highly dependent on the time and cost of transport and logistics, it is obvious that the more efficient and effective the transport system is, the better your economic growth and job-creation opportunities will be.”
Rock down to Electric Avenue
Dereshin Pillay, head of automotive and manufacturing at T-Systems, suggests that while everybody seems to be talking about electric cars, the fact is that when it comes to the long-term development of such vehicles and their implementation in SA, industry is facing something of a “chicken and egg” scenario.
“The problem for players in this sector is that there is a concern that they may invest in this field only to find there is little adoption, but at the same time there is a fear that adoption may never happen unless there is some significant investment in the field,” he says.
The idea of electric vehicles as cleaner and greener modes of transport is great, he adds, but there are many genuine infrastructure challenges to be overcome before widespread adoption occurs. For one thing, charging time for batteries is lengthy, while another challenge is the distance one can travel on a single charge. Unless there are many opportunities to easily recharge across the country, the lack of long-distance travel ability may be a major detractor for consumer adoption.
“Of course, thinking outside the box could also help here. For example, SA has an over-abundance of shopping malls, so there is the potential for something like building induction chargers into the parking lots and turning these centres into charging hubs, for example.
“There are definitely many boxes still to tick before electric vehicles become widely adopted here. However, on the positive side, any implementation that does take place will be smoother, as we won’t have to reinvent the wheel, since there are many test cases in parts of the developed world already. In fact, SA has the potential to go from combustion to full electric in a single step, skipping the hybrid stage that is common in the US and European markets,” states Pillay.
On the other hand, Winstone Jordaan, MD of GridCars, believes that the transition from combustion to electric will be a gradual and incremental process. At the same time, he says, we need to begin the transformation now; we cannot simply sit back and expect it to happen of its own accord.
“Such an incremental process means we cannot expect the first electric vehicles to do everything that current cars can – such as traversing long distances – but if we manage expectations, adoption will occur gradually. A good example here is an owner using their electric vehicle only for short-distance driving within the city, where access to charging points is easier. At the same time, as this type of adoption occurs, so the manufacturers can be working towards creating batteries which will be more effective over much longer distances.”
It is also about evolving new behaviours, he points out, such as learning to plug your car in every time you stop, instead of the once-a-week visit to the petrol station to fill up.
“The human race has been evolving new behaviours like this every time a new technology comes along, such as when we changed from horses to cars. A good example of such new behaviour is that which will be required by the channel that services motor vehicles. Electric vehicles have very few moving parts, comparatively speaking, so service centres will definitely need to adapt to a whole new approach to servicing cars,” he says.
“However, it is going to be a lengthy adoption process – maybe 20 years for the country to become fully electric – so mechanics will have time to evolve to the new ways of doing things. After all, blacksmiths didn’t go out of business when horses were phased out; they simply adapted to fitting tyres instead of shoes.”