The South African minibus taxi industry faces a major shake-up with the news that the first fully electric minibus taxis will be trialled locally soon.
A project team of companies and research institutions on Thursday announced a research partnership to investigate and advance the feasibility of an electric minibus taxi in South African conditions, by testing production vehicles in 2023.
A number of viable electric minibus taxi models from various markets have already been identified, the first of which is expected in South African before the end of the year.
The acceptance and practicality of the model will be extensively tested with taxi owners and drivers, in order to identify the use-cases and conditions where an electric taxi would make the most sense.
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GoMetro, a global mobility management technology company with its head office in Cape Town, has collected data on taxi operations countrywide over the last five years. In order to advance e-mobility development locally, GoMetro has convened a project team of innovative companies and researchers to launch a demonstrator project to test the first minibus in South African conditions by January 2023.
The project team, consisting of GoMetro, MiX Telematics, HSW, ACDC Dynamics, and various entities within Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Engineering, will conduct rigorous and extensive testing in and around the town of Stellenbosch. It also aims to put the electrification of the minibus taxi sector firmly on the national agenda by means of an educational roadshow in all nine provinces in the course of 2023.
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All roleplayers on board to find a solution to high transport costs
“Taxi drivers and owners are very interested and intrigued by the idea of an electric minibus taxi and are constantly asking us when the first electric minibus taxi will arrive on our shores”, says Justin Coetzee, CEO of GoMetro.
“We have built valuable relationships with a large number of taxi associations and the ever-increasing fuel price is a massive concern among owners, drivers and riders alike, as there does not seem to be any relief in sight.
“The industry has long acknowledged that business as usual will not suffice and that change is required, especially after the effects of Covid-19,” Coetzee added.
It is estimated that the minibus taxi industry completes over 15 million trips every weekday and that almost 70% of households rely on them. The locally-built Toyota HiAce is the industy’s most popular choice of vehicle indicated by average monthly new sales of well over 1 000.
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The aim of testing different minibus taxis over the coming months is to establish which vehicle will be best suited to the South African public transport industry, and also what spectrum of operations are conducive to the range capabilities of the vehicles.
Not too many fully electric minibusses exist, with one of them, the Chinese-built 14-seater Joylong E6, making its debut only this week in Australia.
High import taxes a stumbling block for EV adoption
In addition to testing the vehicle itself, the project team wants to engage with the automotive sector and policy makers to encourage proactive discussions with the government around the reduction of duties and the promotion of the adoption of electric vehicles in the transport sector.
Various role players within the automotive industry have already called on government to ease the excessive import taxes and duties in an effort to make EVs more affordable, but to no avail. Of the almost one dozen EV models currently on offer in South Africa across Porsche, Audi, BMW, Volvo and Jaguar’s stables, only one, the Mini Cooper S E, costs less than one million rand.
Apart from their costs, the concerns over the instability of the national power grid has also contributed to South Africa’s adoption of EVs being much slower than in other parts of the world.
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Additional reporting by Jaco van der Merwe