Two new electric vehicles — at opposite ends of the pricing spectrum — add to the growing list of options for the local market. By Nafisa Akabor.

The pandemic has undeniably altered the car market, and electric vehicles (EVs) have not been spared. The impact of lockdowns has affected the rollout of new vehicles in most markets.

But Mini SA has been able to bring its first EV to SA, the Cooper SE, earlier than its initial date of end-2020. The SE will go on sale in October, and the company is already accepting orders.

Hailey Philander, spokesperson for BMW and Mini SA, tells the FM that because plants were shut down globally earlier in the year, the timeline for most vehicles has been affected.

SA’s auto industry was already reeling in an economy that has failed to show meaningful growth for years. Plant shutdowns and supply chain disruptions as a result of the pandemic have been an additional burden.

But the industry is looking ahead. The Cooper SE has been billed the cheapest EV to go on sale in SA. Pricing starts at R642,000 and includes a 2.3kW home charger.

The FM took it for a solo test drive around Joburg. This is a city vehicle, so we drove along the M1 highway from Midrand to Rosebank, Parktown North, around Illovo and then Sandton before taking Rivonia Road back to Mini HQ.

The electric Mini was put to the test for what it was intended: most traffic lights in Sandton were out thanks to load-shedding. But this allowed the car to shine through its regenerative braking system on its highest aggressive setting. It was easy to adjust to “one-pedal driving”, which means rarely tapping the brake.

The Cooper SE will come in two variants, the S and L, both featuring 135kW of power and 270Nm of torque. The L offers additional features and finishes.

The 217km range on a single charge from its 32.64kWh battery capacity may not sound impressive, but this excludes what regenerative braking — constantly recharging while driving — can achieve, combined with individual driving style. These factors could take it up to 270km.

On the other end of the pricing spectrum is the Porsche Taycan Turbo S, which was launched in July, with a price tag of about R4m. It has a range of about 370km and a 93.4kWh battery capacity.

It is unique because of its two-speed transmission and an 800V charging system that reduces charge time to just 22½ minutes, through a maximum 270kW power output.

Current public charging infrastructure in SA cannot support this, but the Taycan does come with an 11kW home charger. It is intended for overnight use and takes up to eight hours to charge fully.

FM was not able to put the Taycan to the test as Porsche SA did not respond to our request.

Winstone Jordaan, CEO and owner of GridCars, says the Taycan is the first high-voltage vehicle available in SA but will be followed soon by three other brands with higher-voltage batteries. “A higher voltage means for the same power we have lower amps, which allows for the use of thinner cables; alternatively for the same size cable we can have higher power output [more kW].”

Most of GridCars’ existing and new charging stations can accommodate 800V chargers, but its older stations have a maximum of 500V. GridCars has more than 200 charging points around the country.

Jordaan is aware of discussions to install large power charge points but none is publicly available.

He adds that the lockdown has resulted in carmakers delaying spending on infrastructure projects for at least two months, but there is renewed interest.

Jordaan says public EV charging station use picked up during May and is now back at 80% of pre-lockdown levels. “I believe the lockdown period, globally, has made people more aware of EVs and the role they can play in contributing to cleaner air,” he says.

“Worldwide EV sales suffered along with the slowdown experienced in all vehicle sales, but all indications are that EV sales will come back stronger than before.”

Despite the state of SA’s economy, Jordaan believes that EVs are cheaper to operate and maintain, and over time, savings will be huge.

“At this time, there is still a premium being paid for EVs and that means you need to be driving upwards of 100km a day to really see the benefit. As we approach price parity with fossil fuel cars — expected in 2023/2024 — the decision to drive electric really does become an economic one and choosing to drive a fossil fuel vehicle will be only for the wealthy, or for special applications.”