Nissan to plug into energy saving consumers at the Johannesburg International Motor Show
The DNA of most SA drivers may not match the more clean-cut image an electric car brings to mind, but the Johannesburg International Motor Show is about to give even drivers brimming with machismo a taste of a new breed of electric vehicle that could change their minds.
It’s been a long road to get here after Optimal Energy’s plans to roll out 50,000 electric-powered Joule’s in 2014 were canned due to funding shortfalls. But SA gets its first taste of true electric motoring at this year’s Show in the form of Nissan’s LEAF. It is the long-awaited fruition of a process originally planned for 2011, but which was delayed after a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. Nissan SA is the local arm of the Japan-based company.
Much-hyped US production had been planned for late 2012, but the earthquake put paid to that plan. All the while, SA consumers, who remained sceptical of battery power and the range it delivered, sat on the sidelines buying gas guzzling alternatives.
The Nissan LEAF will make its South African debut at the Show and goes on sale to the public at the same time.
It’s an exciting time for the motoring industry amid immense pressure to reduce carbon emissions ahead of a planned carbon tax rollout in 2015, which is already beginning to change behaviour. The car has already proved popular in other countries as discerning drivers begin to choose options that are friendlier to the environment. Nissan has sold over 100,000 units worldwide since international launch in 2010.
The move to electric seems hard to stop. Exciting partnerships with government could pave the way for the development of a major electric vehicle industry in an SA market struggling to deploy fuel efficient alternatives due to poor grades of petrol.
Managing Director of Nissan South Africa, Mike Whitfield says the launch is “groundbreaking” as Nissan becomes the first brand to explore electric vehicle retailing in South Africa. “We are extremely proud to be able to say ‘we were first’,” he says.
The goal is to put 1.5 million electric vehicles on the world’s roads by 2016, but to achieve this Nissan will work with alliance partner Renault and its zero emission products, which have one of the best track records in the world after winning a contract to supply the French government with electric cars as far back as 2011.
Government is taking a longer-term view too and wants to create a local market for electric vehicles by offering 35% investment rebates for companies building at least 5,000 electric vehicles annually. This incentive forms part of the Automotive Production and Development Plan, which took shape this year as the prior Motor Industry Development Programme is unwound.
National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (NAAMSA) director Nico Vermeulen says an emerging middle class is contributing to demand in the car market and new fuel efficient technology should further stimulate the market, which he feels is set for further strong growth this year despite the labour challenges.
According to Nissan the LEAF has already been impressing in pilot programmes with Eskom – the national electricity supplier – and with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA).
While the popular Datsun brand was phased out of SA in 1981 Nissan South Africa is one of the top three automotive companies in the country, selling 50,542 vehicles in fiscal 2012 – and don’t be surprised to find Datsun back in your neighbourhood – it is set for relaunch at the end of next year.
Nissan South Africa is the operational hub for regional business across South Africa and 42 other countries in Sub Saharan Africa, including Angola, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria. Its overseas parent, however, is getting excited about Africa’s potential. Nissan’s manufacturing facility in Rosslyn, Pretoria, is about to get an investment boost of R1bn to turn it into a production hub for Nissan’s one ton pick-up range.
Its Rosslyn plant manufactures light commercial vehicles which include the NP200 half-ton pickup and NP300 one-ton Hardbody. It also produces the Livina and Sandero passenger vehicles, the latter for Alliance partner Renault.