South Africa unveils its first electric car

Posted by Laura Grant on October 1, 2008
Posted in Transport

South Africa’s first electric car, the Joule, has finally been unveiled to the public. We’ve been waiting months to get a look at this six-seater designed by Keith Helfet, the South African-born former chief stylist for Jaguar, and built on “practically a shoestring budget” by Cape Town-based Optimal Energy. (Video here)

The chassis has been designed to accommodate two large-cell lithium ion battery packs, but since research shows that 99 percent of urban users drive less than 150km a day, Optimal Energy says only one battery is needed to power the Joule. That battery will give you a range of about 200km – adding another one will double the range to 400km.

The batteries are charged using a normal 220 volt home outlet and take about seven hours to recharge – which in South Africa, where there are concerns about electricity supply, could be done at night without placing stress on the grid, the firm says in a press release.

The Joule is silent and has zero emissions (except of course for those produced in generating the electricity needed to charge its batteries). Its top speed is 130km/hour and it has fast acceleration and a tight turning circle, says the release.

Gauteng province is being evaluated as the site for the Joule’s first assembly plant, the release says. The car will be sold in all the major South African centres and should be available towards then end of 2010. The car will also be available on the international market.

The car will make its global debut at the Paris Motor Show on October 4.


10 Responses to “South Africa unveils its first electric car”

  1. paul (the unverified)
    October 2nd, 2008 @ 2:51 pm

    Very nice looking vehicle. I hope to see this available in the US. I’m also much more enamored by the name Joule. I have a problem with calling a car the Tata Nano. Not that the name should be a decision factor in buying a car, but some of us in the states associate ‘Tata’ with certain anatomical features with which we sometimes have a very pronounced preoccupation.

    Not me, though. I’m above all that.

    Good luck to all re this effort. I wish you much success. We all will benefit from it.

  2. Jo
    October 3rd, 2008 @ 7:22 pm

    great car, congratulations!
    I have a problem with the size of the car. Isnt it supposed to drive in town?
    So, why a 6-seater and not a 4-seater ? A car this big and with this technology will go for 300-400T Rand, too much. But lets wait and see.

  3. Kirsti
    October 6th, 2008 @ 9:52 am

    Looks great! I’m very proud that South Africa is getting behind the global movement towards a more conscious way of living!

    Does anyone know what kind of price the Joule will be retailing at?

  4. Willem Botha
    October 6th, 2008 @ 10:12 am

    I know that “regenerating power” from the breaking system is used, wonder why solar panels in the roof were not incorporated?

    If the price is reasonable, I will defenitely drive one.
    It wil be interresting to see the technical specs


  5. laura
    October 6th, 2008 @ 10:18 am

    @Kirsti: Reports are that it’ll sell for about R200,000. But it’s not going to be available until 2010 and a lot could change between now and then.

  6. Jessie
    October 6th, 2008 @ 1:29 pm

    It is truly great to see South Africa being marketed in such a very positive light! We really need it! What a sassy looking “first” product! Just one more reason to remain proudly South African!

    Quick observation:and by no means am I being negative, just pointing out a fact – these steps are all so very necessary to save our planet, but I do expect that, just like every other commodity that is meant to assist you with a good healthy lifestyle it is going to literally cost you an arm and a leg! We only have to look at our pharmaceutical and healthy lifestyle industries, to know this.

    And by all means I respect the costs involved and the amount of research and time that is put into the design and production of these commodities, but just how is it going to help the world’s population heal the earth if these products are just unobtainable to the masses?

    Just one of life’s sad realities that I can’t seem to get my head around.

  7. laura
    October 6th, 2008 @ 2:12 pm

    @Jessie: You’re right, they’re way out of reach of your average South African. But wouldn’t it be good if they could make these things slightly bigger – minibus-sized – so they could be used as public transport.

  8. Remy
    October 9th, 2008 @ 10:03 pm

    Quick question…

    What happens if I want to drive to Plett/Knysna from Cape Town?

    Do I like have to stop-over for seven hours to recharge the battery; or should I carry a few in the Wife’s handbag?

    Is there a part for Duracell batteries?

    – R

  9. laura
    October 10th, 2008 @ 7:43 am

    @Remy: They’re calling this car “the optimal solution for urban transport”, so they weren’t really thinking of how people would get from Slaapstad to Plett and back – which is a bit silly, but you have to assume they did the research.

    Hope your wife has a really big handbag.

  10. Jerry
    July 31st, 2009 @ 5:55 am

    I have read that in Europe, 90% of people travel less than 90km per day. Often when they go further, they fly and hire a car (which could be an EV on that side). In South Africa people often have two cars, one is a local run-around, which could be an EV.

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