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A Joule of a plan?

by Hannes Oosthuizen on 12/04/2010

Comments: 0

Optimal Energy, the all-new electric car company based in Woodstock, Cape Town, has big ambitions. Its Joule electric car was recently shown at a major international motor show for the second time, and is scheduled for mass production within three years.
Understandably, some big question marks remain around the project, and to get some answers to these, CAR’s Deputy Editor, Hannes Oosthuizen, chatted to Kobus Meiring, CEO of Optimal Energy.

HO: Starting a new OEM from scratch requires loads of money. How is Optimal Energy funded? Who are the backers, and how committed are they? Is the taxpayer paying for this?
KM: Optimal Energy belongs to the four founders, the Innovation Fund (part of the Department of Science & Technology, i.e. government) and the IDC. We have received no grants or loans. Government and the IDC are fully committed, as proven by the new Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP), which specifically addresses the commercialisation of South Africa’s electric vehicle as this will trigger the start of a whole industry, with job creation, skills development, export revenue, and so forth.

HO: Are rising electricity prices a danger for the project?
KM: No. At current electricity and fuel prices, the electricity cost to travel 100 km is about R5, while the fuel cost for a similar sized car is about R80. A doubling in electricity cost will change that to R10 – still very substantially cheaper than R80. The price of fuel is expected to rise substantially over the next few years, and Eskom is introducing off peak rates on a wide scale, which will result in this wide margin probably getting wider. This is directly related to the inherent efficency of electric vehicles, and this cost advantage applies anywhere in the world.

HO: What will Joule cost? And how will buyers pay for the batteries? What about maintenance and servicing?
KM: In 2010 terms, Joule will start at R240 000, and go up to R280 000, depending on specification level, and excluding batteries. Batteries will be leased separately, and this lease will include battery, electricity, insurance, maintenance and warranty. This monthly lease cost will compete favourably with a conventional car’s monthly fuel and maintenance cost. Maintenance on an EV is very low, as there are very few moving parts, no oil, filters, spark plugs, silencers, etc, and even the brake pads work very seldomly as more than 90 per cent of the braking is done regeneratively, i.e. the motor is used as a generator and the energy goes back into the battery.

HO: In European cities, a target market of yours, inhabitants typically don’t have a garage at home, but rent for around 260 Euros per month. I’m not sure if these garages typically have electricity outlets, but from what I can gather, they do not. Also, a large number simply park on the street. Aren’t these rather major obstacles for an electric car company?
KM: European and UK cities have realised where cars are going, and there are large scale on-street and public parking charging point roll-out programs in most of the big cities, planned to be in place by 2012 or even sooner in some cities. In many cities like London, Paris, Lisbon, etc, one can already see numerous on-street charging points. These typically look like parking meters, and electricity is paid for by credit card or special pre-paid electricity cards. In London, charging is free.

HO: How can Joule go on-sale in 2012 if the factory isn¹t even built yet?
KM: Joule goes on sale in 2013, the factory will be completed by mid-2012, but it takes some time after the factory is complete before the first production cars roll off the line.

HO: Where will Joule be built? Who are the industrialisation partners? How many jobs will local production create?
KM: We have shortlisted the East London Industrial Development Zone (ELIDZ) and Koega near Port Elizabeth. A decision will be taken in the near future. We have signed an agreement with the German automotive developer EDAG to be our main industrialisation partner, more are in the pipeline. The plant will create around 1 900 direct jobs, with a further 8 500 created in supporting industries.

HO: By late 2012 Nissan¹s Leaf could be on sale here already. Is that a concern?
KM: No, we always knew there would be competition. Having more EV’s in the market will make EV technology much easier accepted by the mainstream market, which is very important. According to all market studies, the demand for EV’s will outstrip supply for the next decade, and Joule is a very competitive car, so we welcome competition – there is space for many.

HO: When do you think Optimal Energy will first make a profit? What are your expected volumes?

KM: We expect to make our first profit in 2014. We are developing the plant for 50 000 units per year working on two shifts, expanding to 75 000 per year quite comfortably.

HO: Any plans beyond the Joule model?
KM: Yes! Joule Generation 2 is already on the drawing boards.


  • Chris Groenewald

    How about a smaller/cheaper car, but please the body must not be designed by someone who sniffs gum or is addicted to something that causes serious hallucinations.

  • Chris Groenewald

    How about a smaller/cheaper car, but please the body must not be designed by someone who sniffs gum or is addicted to something that causes serious hallucinations.

  • Chris Groenewald

    How about a smaller/cheaper car, but please the body must not be designed by someone who sniffs gum or is addicted to something that causes serious hallucinations.