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South Africa: Unplugged – Why Is South Africa So Far Behind On the Race to Electrify Vehicles?

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In the midst of what seems like a never-ending energy crisis, it seems absurd to consider electrifying our transport. But the global race to electrify vehicles is picking up — EVs are integral to meeting our emission targets, and with three of every four vehicles manufactured in SA destined for the EU and UK — who have announced a ban on the sale of new ICE vehicles from 2030 and 2035 respectfully — SA is about to be left in the dust.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) reported in their annual Global EV Outlook for 2023 that 14% of all cars sold worldwide in 2022 (amounting to 10 million) were electric.

This is hard to imagine in South Africa, which has about 2,300 electric vehicles driving among our 12 million total vehicles on the road.

With SA’s transport sector being the second biggest polluter after the power industry — accounting for 13% of CO2 emissions, with road transport accounting for 91.2% of these transport emissions (diesel and motor gasoline are the main contributing fuels), and over two-thirds of our cars manufactured here exported overseas, our non-existent EV industry is baffling at best, and concerning to sustainable and automotive industry experts.

Are electric vehicles really better for the environment?

The short answer is, yes. But as this is a controversial and heated debate — here’s a breakdown.

A common criticism of battery-electric vehicles (or EVs) is that their overall life cycle (which includes mining for raw materials, manufacturing, fuel cycle, use and end-of-life recycling) has higher environmental impacts than internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs).

Another critique which is valid to consider in an economy that is as coal-reliant as South…

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