South African motorists may have to wait a while for the official launch of Tesla vehicles in the country.

SA motorists will shun electric cars as long as the government refuses to incentivise their purchase, says a report by online retailer AutoTrader.

The report, published this week, says that while nearly 70% of respondents to a survey said they would consider buying an electric car, very few planned to do so in the near future.

Despite acknowledging that electric cars are cheaper to run than vehicles with traditional internal combustion engines, they cited purchase price as a major obstacle to ownership.

AutoTrader CEO George Mienie said South Africans are still “a long way” from adopting all forms of electric vehicles (EVs), including trucks and buses.

“This is not because we don’t want to own them but because of affordability. High import duties and lack of government subsidies make EVs substantially more expensive than the average vehicle. This places them out of reach for many South Africans,” he said.

The report says that of more than 10-million cars on SA roads, only about 1,000 are electric. This number is growing by only a handful each month.

Globally, numbers are growing by up to 40% annually. In 2019, 2.1-million were sold, accounting for 2.6% of all car sales. In nearly all markets in which demand is growing, governments offer purchasing incentives, including duty rebates.

SA does the opposite by actively penalising buyers of electric cars. While an ordinary car attracts an 18% import duty, an electric one is hit with 25%.

Despite voicing its support for the use of electric cars, the government has turned down incentive proposals — including one that duties should be scrapped for three years, then reintroduced at a 10% rate.

Responding to a tweet on Thursday (29 August), Musk indicated that the country’s high tariffs are currently impacting the launch of the cars in the county.

Musk said that he ‘would love to’ bring Tesla to the country but that ‘import duties are extremely high, even for electric vehicles’.

The AutoTrader survey, of 3,105 consumers, was conducted in conjunction with mobility specialist Generation.e. MD Ben Pullen, predicting the global “mass adoption” of electric cars, said buyer perceptions are clearly in their favour.

In SA, however, Mienie said misconceptions about electric cars still has to be corrected. First-generation models may have been able to travel only 100km between battery recharges but new models can do 400km and more. Add that along the lengths of the N1, N2, N3 and N4 national highways, charging stations are no more than 200km apart, and it becomes clear that “range anxiety” — the fear of running out of power in the middle of nowhere — is no longer necessary.

He said SA has one of the world’s lowest ratios of charging points to EVs at six cars per station. Globally, the figure is 25 to one.

He added that despite SA’s slowness in adopting electric cars, it could not resist what it happening in the rest of the world, saying, “EVs are coming, whether we like it or not.” 


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