Electric wheels for SA

Optimal Energy unveiled South Africa's first locally produced and designed electric car, a silent six-seater named Joule.

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Joule Electric

Optimal Energy has unveiled South Africa's first locally produced and designed electric car. Named Joule, the silent, zero-emission car is a six-seater multi-purpose vehicle, designed by Keith Helfet, internationally renowned for his work at Jaguar.

"Keith was serendipitously introduced to Optimal Energy while purchasing coastal property in South Africa and was immediately captivated by our vision. Optimal Energy was searching for a world-class designer, the fact that Keith is South African born and has strong South African roots matched our criteria perfectly," explains Kobus Meiring, CEO of Optimal Energy.

Joule's chassis has been designed to accommodate two large-cell lithium-ion battery packs similar to mobile phones and laptop batteries. 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. However, according to Meiring: "Studies show that 99% of urban users drive less than 150km per day."

Independent analysis of Eskom, the country's sole electricity provider, 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. Eskom has vast amounts of excess energy between 11pm and 6am - the recommended recharging time. Electric cars only require about 20% of the energy that conventional cars require, meaning that the total emissions are much less, even if Eskom's coal-dominated electricity is used. With the global trend of electricity generation becoming more renewable and cleaner, total emissions caused by electric cars will continue to shrink.

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%. Joule will be sold in all major South African centres - Gauteng, Cape Town and Durban - and will be available towards the end of 2010. Joule was developed for the international market, and sales and exports will follow shortly after the South African launch.

Watch the Talk with Keith Helfet