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September 2017

Flying cars … they were supposed to be here by now. If you read future-speculative articles
from the 1950s, in this second decade of the new millennium, we were also meant to be living in gleaming, utopian cities, strapping on jetpacks and planning our next moon holiday. Only, we’re not. The future, as it turns out, is never quite The Future.

Which is why all this talk about “the death of the car as we know it” has me rolling my eyes. The media is awash with talk of autonomous driving, personal mobility and electric vehicles as imminent technologies that are about to change our very notion of personal transport. There have been recent announcements  from the governments of the United Kingdom and France banning the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2040 (the UK will allow hybrids, but it’s EV-only for
the French). Yet, compared with the Norwegians, even that’s not soon enough; they’ve pegged 2025 as the date for EV-only new-vehicle sales. Then there’s Tesla, the industry’s Chief Disrupter,
which has smartly positioned its increasingly affordable and longer-ranged vehicles within a sufficient electrified loop that includes innovative domestic solar roof panels and Powerwall storage cells.

Plus, tech companies such as Google and Apple are also working on autonomous-driving technologies … surely The Future has arrived? Not quite. At least, not quite in South Africa. Don’t get me wrong; I’m no EV denialist. I grasp their advantages and, while I will always want the option to control a vehicle myself, I do see the benefits autonomous-driving capability offers in certain circumstances. There is, however, one crucial point to remember … we’re not living in Norway, England, France or the USA. We are decades behind those countries in not just
setting up the infrastructure for autonomous-driving EV, but being able to afford them. As a country – one of the wealthier ones on this continent – more pressing issues such as education and housing will be in line for government funds before any charging or connected car
network. And there will need to be government involvement. Without it coming to the party to partner car brands in building the infrastructure, as well as providing a subsidy or tax break on EV sales, I see affordable petrol- and diesel-powered cars making up the bulk of sales in South Africa well beyond 2040.

New technology is useful and effective only if it is appropriate to the environment in which it operates. EV in Norway? Definitely. But in an African context outside of a few cities? Not so much. Surely it’s better to invest in more relevant technologies such as the affordable, practical Gordon Murray-designed OX at-pack truck that’s specifically formulated to provide all-terrain mobility in a developing country?

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CAR magazine