Africa's first all-electric vehicle unveiled at Paris Motor Show

3rd October 2008 By: Jade Davenport - Creamer Media Correspondent

Cape Town-based transport solution firm Optimal Energy has revealed its intention to launch Africa's first all electric, zero-emission vehicle.

The six-seater multi-purpose vehicle, named 'Joule', has been hailed as a celebration of South African engineering ingenuity and will make its global debut at the prestigious Paris Motor Show this month.

Elaborating on the rationale for the development of this car, Optimal Energy CEO Kobus Meiring explains that the urban transport sector is one of the main users of finite fossil fuels and in order to address the issues of energy resource depletion and climate change the transport sector needs to seek out long-term environmentally sustainable solutions.

"The world's finite energy sources are being used inefficiently and urban transport plays a significant role in energy wastage and climate changing pollution," elaborates Meiring.

It was this need to address the issue of finite resource depletion within the transport sector that compelled the formation of Optimal Energy in 2005.

Consequently, the objective of the company is to establish and lead the electric vehicle industry in South Africa as a springboard to global expansion, enthuses Meiring.

The design and development of the all-electric Joule is the company's most significant contribution to achieving this objective and to addressing the effects of climate change.

Meiring further states that battery-operated electric vehicles, such as Joule, will play an increasing significant role in the transport sector long-term.

Significantly, the development and launch of Joule is exceptionally well-timed.

This is illustrated by the fact that Optimal Energy has capitalised on the opportunity presented by the exponential increase in oil costs and the dramatic improvement in battery price, life and performance.

"Joule's value proposition is made more compelling when environmental influences such as increasing pollution and global warming phenomena caused by the rapid increase in urbanisation are also considered," says Meiring.

In terms of the design of the vehicle, Optimal Energy's Joule has been designed in association with legendary South African-born automotive designer Keith Helfet, who had a long and illustrious career as chief stylist at Jaguar and was responsible for such iconic designs as the XJ220, the XK180 and the F-Type.

Joule's chassis has been designed to accommodate two large-cell lithium ion battery packs, which employ chemistry similar to that used in mobile phones and laptop computers.

This chemistry is inherently safe; lithium is found in many medicinal applications and the batteries do not contain any heavy metals.

Using a normal 220 Volt home outlet and Joule's onboard charger, it will take approximately seven hours to recharge Joule's battery for a 200km driving range, with two packs providing 400km in total.

Joule's large battery bay is able to accommodate a number of different battery configurations from different suppliers, giving the customer the choice of performance and cost.

"Studies have indicated that 99 percent of urban users drive less than 150km's a day, Optimal Energy recommends that only one battery pack is necessary to power Joule," continues Meiring.

When asked to elaborate on the location of Optimal Energy's production plant, Meiring explained that it was decided to locate such a facility within South Africa because the country is a cost-effective manufacturer of cars and is recognised globally as an exporter of quality vehicles.

The province of Gauteng is currently being evaluated for Joule's first assembly plant as it has the biggest cities and has expressed interest in placing the first fleet orders.

Although supplier lists are not yet final, it is expected that the local content of Joule will be more than 50 percent.
Significantly, Meiring insists that, even with the current energy constraints affecting the South African grid, there is enough electricity to support and facilitate the development of an electric motor manufacturing industry.

Independent analysis of Eskom has confirmed that the South African grid has enough capacity to supply electrical energy to millions of cars without affecting its customer base or requiring any additional infrastructure, continues Meiring.

In particular, Eskom has vast amounts of excess energy between 23:00 and 06:00, which will be recommended as the optimum recharging time for such batteries.

Electric cars only require about 20 percent of the energy that conventional cars require, which means that the total emissions are much less, even if Eskom's coal-dominated electricity is used.

The project to design and develop Africa's first all electric vehicle has received considerable support from South Africa's Department of Science and Technology (DST).

In fact, the project received funding from the DST's Innovation Fund and also received considerable support from State-owned financier the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), explains Meiring.

Speaking at the South African launch of Joule, former Science and Technology Minister Mosibidi Mangena said that the launch of this vehicle was a watershed moment in terms of South African innovation.

Mangena further believed that the production of this car was poised to enter a multi-million industry.

The production of the new all electric vehicle will start towards the end of 2010 and Joule will be sold in all major South African centres, including Gauteng, Cape Town and Durban.

As Joule was developed for the international market, sales and export of the vehicle will follow shortly after the South African launch, concludes Meiring.