Electric Vehicles At COP17

Not so long ago, the idea of having a 100% electric vehicle running on South African roads was inconceivable, but believe it or not, this week Durban streets have seen at least ten Nissan Leaf sedan cars transporting delegates back and forth between hotels and the International Convention Centre for the COP 17 conference.

The electrically powered cars are not yet available on the local market, so South Africans will have to wait for some two years to buy these vehicles while negotiations between the Nissan company and government are underway. Negotiations will cover, among other issues, a period for the setting up of appropriate recharging infrastructures and mobility services.

François Crisias who is in Durban to promote Nissan and Renault cars says, "We are currently in talks with government on incentives that could possibly be introduced to aid the Leaf’s roll-out in South Africa, such as lower import duties, or lower company tax on electric vehicles."

He adds, "…the plan is to introduce these cars in South Africa by 2013. The first sale of the Leaf was in San Francisco in December last year and just more than 20 000 units have been sold in Japan, US and Europe. Our next move is to reach out to Australia, South Africa and South America." The target is to sell more than 200 000 all over the world.

Two ways of charging

"We’re here to demonstrate that zero-emission vehicles are a real and affordable solution for reducing CO2 emissions," says Mia Nelson Nielsen, of the Renault-Nissan Alliance. "These cars are also extremely easy to use and extremely easy to recharge. In fact, with an EV you will never need to go to a gasoline (petrol/diesel) station ever again. You can simply recharge from the comfort of your home."

Crisias adds that all Nissan dealers would provide a free charging service on their premises, but elsewhere it would be the decision of the owner. It will nevertheless be eight times cheaper than normal fuel (petrol and diesel). For example in Ireland and Portugal the service is freely provided by the government, so that is what we would negotiate with South Africa. But if that fails, the costs will be far less.

There another dedicated public infrastructure called quick charging service that could be found in supermarkets, restaurants or normal filling stations. This service will take for thirty minutes to recharge the car at least 90%. This service will be applicable to all other electric vehicles.

The cost…

According to Crisias, Nissan Leaf is 20% more expensive than a conventional car but negotiations with the government to provide incentives could reduce the price considerably. This means that the South African government may have to incentivise the use of zero emission electric vehicles, similar to what has been the case in other parts of the world. In California, for example, electric vehicles receive an incentive of between $7 000 to $8 000 per car, as they are still much more expensive than a standard petrol or diesel vehicle of comparable size.

What’s the difference?

The Leaf doesn’t have the range of a conventional car, it doesn’t have the top speed, it costs more and it takes forever to refuel, assuming you have a place to refuel it. The advantage is that electricity costs less than gasoline. Most important, Nissan and the entire automobile world will learn how e-cars operate in the real world.

Equipped with a 340 volt battery pack and a 107 horsepower electric power drive motor, the five seat Leaf hatchback has an estimated range of 160 kilometres, though this will vary with weather, terrain, driving style and how much you carry in passengers and cargo.

Nissan has three other electric vehicles in the pipeline. These vehicles will reduce noise our roads and they are 100% carbon monoxide free. What more can you ask for?

Leaf Awards so far:

• 2011 World car of the year

• 2011 European Car of the year

• 2011 Electric vehicle of the year by Cars.com

• 2010 Green car Vision Award by Green Car Journal

• 2010 Breakthrough Award by Popular Mechanics

• 50 best inventions of 2009 by The Times