As some of our brethren recently discovered to the detriment of their careers, it is not the role of a journalist to be the story. However, context matters, so kindly indulge me while I set a scene in relation to electric vehicles.
I have been reading about cars since I was a boy. I used to cut out and collect pictures of the rally kings of the day: Lancia Delta Integrales, Ford Cosworths and Peugeot 205 GTis. I have been writing about cars and the motor industry since 2005. I once sold a perfectly sensible car and bought a V8 Land Rover for my suburban commute just because I liked the noise. I have driven a Rolls-Royce Phantom along the length of the Kruger Park, an SLS AMG through Mexico; I’ve been driven across Tokyo in a self-driving Lexus and I’ve gone dune-bashing in Glamis in a Bentley Bentayga. I have also driven every humdrum hatchback under the sun and found value in nearly all of them. I won’t bang on but feel my petrolhead credentials are impeccable.
This context is important because I just cannot wait for the age of electric vehicles to come to South Africa. Really, bring it on … modern motoring is (and I’ve laboured over finding the right word for this in a family publication) downright lousy.
I am tired of minuscule turbo engines and dual-clutch gearboxes; tired of engines with incoherent and unpredictable power delivery. I’m tired of grabby drivetrains that jerk and wobble and appear to be in the midst of some interminable family feud. I am tired of quoted fuel consumption figures that are complete and utter fiction. My own family car a 1,5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder hatchback drinks like a motoring journalist on a bender. I seldom see 10 L/100 km. I have no idea what it will do when I put my foot down and have no way of knowing what side of the bed the gearbox got out of. More philosophically, I’m irritated that ordinary motorists have to put up with this wholly second-rate experience to enable the OEMs to manage their fleet emissions while making sure their big-money brands can continue to offer V12 rocket ships. Yes, the reason your supermini has a 1,0-litre engine and the gearbox changes up too soon is that it theoretically uses less fuel in the la-la land that is the European test cycle. Consequently, this means Volkswagen AG can sell a Bentley to an asset manager in Higgovale so he can barge you and your Polo into the Liesbeek River every morning on the school run.
I say, bring on the electric revolution, which will welcome back real motoring to ordinary motorists, and where the car the average Joe can afford is not deliberately engineered to be second-rate. Imagine a car that reacts when you ask it to do something and doesn’t have to go into some hellish NUMSA collective bargaining process just to find a gear. Imagine a powertrain that gives a predictable, linear response to inputs. That’s the electric future.
We can all agree climate change is a genuine concern. My argument isn’t with the regulations in the EU. Here in South Africa, however, the tax regime is just phenomenally cynical: there’s a carbon tax on new internal combustion cars, but also a thumping 25% duty on all imported electric cars. That needs to stop, of course, but as motorists will now be feeling it at the pumps after the budget, the government is addicted to the fuel levy, which is not ring-fenced and vanishes into the abyss we know as the fiscus.
No, our government does not like electric vehicles. You can tax the unleaded for a V8 but how do you differentiate (and tax) the electricity that goes into the battery of a R2 million Jaguar as opposed to lighting the home of a poor family where a child is trying to do homework? You can’t, so they just tax the Jaguar into the stratosphere. The Automotive Production and Development Plan extended until 2030 just 18 months ago and the blueprint for future automotive production in this country doesn’t even mention electric vehicles, even as our key export markets abandon internal combustion en masse.
My fear, therefore, is that this detestable automotive purgatory will live on in South Africa and that we will not be embracing electric mobility anytime soon. For cash-strapped motorists who enjoy driving, we are rather thin on options. I see just one: scrape together enough money to buy an old car with a decent engine and live with the maintenance bills.
One thing is for sure: I have owned my final small-displacement, high-output turbo-petrol, dual-clutch hot mess. Next up, it’s either old-school or electric. I am, as the youth say, over it.