Menu Close

What ever happened to SA’s electric vehicle?

In 2004, a year after Tesla’s incorporation, a group of South African engineers collaborated to develop an electric vehicle (EV) in response to rising global warming concerns, Daily Investor reports.

Kobus Meiring & others co-founded Optimal Energy in 2005 in order to produce the first electric vehicle in South Africa.

They received R15 million from the Department of Science and Technology’s Innovation Fund in December 2005 to construct a prototype.

For the body, chassis, and interior, the team utilized existing technologies and off-the-shelf parts.

Battery, electric drive, and vehicle control systems, which were new technologies at the time, received the majority of the development.

Keith Helfet, a Jaguar car designer born in South Africa, designed The Joule with the same flowing lines as his other signature vehicles.

At the 2010 International Motor Show in Geneva, Optimal Energy displayed the new Joule, which had undergone interior and exterior modifications.

This version of the Joule, which was hand-built by Hi-Tech Automotive near Port Elizabeth, was touted as being close to the production model.

At the time, Optimal Energy projected that full-scale production of the Joule would commence by the end of 2012, with vehicles arriving in dealerships by mid-2013.

Key design objectives for the final product included a range of 230 kilometers, a top speed of 135 kilometers per hour on the highway, seating for five passengers, and a 4-star NCAP safety rating at a retail price of R245,000.

As the market for electric vehicles in South Africa was limited, the Joule was designed for the expanding European market.

Despite the enthusiasm surrounding the Joule, Optimal Energy closed its doors in 2012.

This begs the question, “What went wrong?”

Gerhard Swart, co-founder of Optimal Energy, explained that it was difficult to move from the prototype stage to annual production of thousands.

It would have taken approximately four years and an additional R9.8 billion investment to produce 50,000 Joules per year in volume.

Optimal Energy was unable to secure funding from existing or new investors, and the project was halted.

Swart stated that Optimal Energy and the Joule EV were victims of the “innovation chasm” – the inability of academic research to be commercialized as products or services.

The Joule EV project presented South Africa with an opportunity to join the ranks of the established automotive industry.

However, it was challenging for the funders to comprehend the opportunity’s worth because it was unlike the typical innovation projects they had previously supported.

Swart stated that Optimal Energy’s demise could be attributed to the hefty budget necessary to complete the project.

He argued, however, that the project would have been successful if they had addressed the issues that caused them to fall into the innovation chasm.

Swart stated that communication is the link between all the factors that contributed to the demise of Optimal Energy.

“Communication about the process, strategy, and successes and failures,” he stated.

READ MORE: Rich people buy Dior, Porsche, and Rolex despite global problems

“At some point, for whatever reason, investors lost faith in the executability of the Optimal Energy plan,”

This could have been resolved through improved communication with all parties involved.

Related Posts