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State of electric vehicle uptake in South Africa – Energize

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by Hiten Parmar, uYilo eMobility Programme

Air quality, manufacturing, imports, charging infrastructure and government policy are the main focal areas for electric vehicles in South Africa. Each of these must be addressed in order for the country to follow the global transition to non-fossil fueled transportation, boost consumer adoption and remain competitive on the international market.

Air quality

Air pollution is a major problem globally, with as much as 80% of the world’s population living in urban environments with pollutant levels which exceed the World Health Organisation’s (WHO’s) guidelines. The Department of Transport’s Green Transport Strategy (GTS), launched in 2018, identified road transport in South Africa as being the primary source of transport-related CO₂ emissions, contributing 91,2% of the total transport-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, primarily from the combustion of petrol and diesel.

Nearly 7-million people die annually from air pollution, which increases the risks of respiratory and heart disease, lung cancer and low birth weight. WHO’s research shows that both children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable. This places a significant burden on the healthcare system, whose weaknesses are currently being exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.


Automotive manufacturing in South Africa started in February 1924 with the assembly of the Model T Ford. This industry currently employs 110 000 people. South Africa’s Automotive Masterplan 2035 plans to achieve 1% of global vehicle production, with local content increasing from 39 to 60%. The goal is to double employment in the value chain, where electric vehicles will have to play a significant role going forward.

Worldwide, cities are planning to ban petrol and diesel vehicles, some from as soon as 2025. Since most of our vehicle exports go to the European Union, South Africa would lose that market. The African market, even it was to leapfrog directly into embracing electric vehicles (EVs), would not be a large enough market.


Current import conditions do not favour electric vehicles and South Africa does not manufacture battery-electric passenger vehicles for the mass market. This impacts consumer choice in the switch to electric mobility.

Internationally, price parity for EVs against conventional fuel vehicles is expected by 2023. Battery costs have dropped significantly, and manufacturers are increasing production to meet consumer demand. Low sales volumes of EVs in SA are a reflection of the customs tariffs imposed. Petrol and diesel vehicles from the EU have a customs duty of 18% while electric vehicles are levied at 25%. On top of this is the ad valorem customs excise duties and VAT.

Charging infrastructure

The charging network in South Africa is growing. There are currently around 214 public chargers in South Africa listed on the global community-based platform “PlugShare” which provide charging times which range from 25 minutes to six hours, depending on their location, power availability and the capacity of the vehicle’s battery.

Perceived range-anxiety remains an issue for new adopters of electric mobility. International use cases indicate that as much as 70% of charging takes place at home and not at public chargers. Except for high mileage journeys, there is very little need for the typical car buyer to charge their vehicle in a public space and it always has full range when left plugged in at home.

In terms of grid impact, using the global 5% average for the electric vehicle fleet, a similar fleet in South Africa would consume around 0,5% of peak energy demand.

Actions needed

South Africa, as a signatory to the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework for Climate Change Convention, which was adopted in December of 2015, is committed to a “peak, plateau and decline (PPD)” emissions trajectory. Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific analyser which tracks government climate actions, rated South Africa’s actions by December 2019 as “Highly Insufficient”.

Broader policy frameworks need to be aligned toward addressing the global climate crisis. For South Africa it is especially challenging facing this as a developing country with priorities to reduce poverty and inequality.

About uYilo eMobility

The national uYilo eMobility Programme, an initiative of the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), a schedule 3A public entity of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), focuses on enabling, facilitating and mobilising electric mobility in South Africa. The programme is hosted within eNtsa, an internationally recognized hub of innovation and engagement institute within Nelson Mandela University. uYilo’s facilities are headquartered in Port Elizabeth, with a satellite office in Johannesburg.

Contact Hiten Parmar, uYilo eMobility Programme, Tel 010 005-5346, hiten.parmar@mandela.ac.za

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