The Joule: Africa’s first all-electric car

6 October 2008

South Africa’s first locally developed electric car made its debut at the Paris Motor Show last week. The zero-emission Joule is a six-seater multi-purpose vehicle designed by Cape Town-based Optimal Energy in association with legendary South African-born automotive designer Keith Helfet.

According to Optimal Energy, the world’s finite energy resources are being used inefficiently, with urban transport playing a major role in energy wastage and climate changing pollution – something the company aims to change with the Joule, which uses just 20% of the energy needed by a conventional car.

“We have capitalised on the opportunity presented by the exponential increase in oil costs and the dramatic improvement in battery price, life and performance,” Optimal Energy CEO Kobus Meiring said in a statement last week.

“Joule’s value proposition is made more compelling when environmental influences such as increasing pollution and global warming phenomena caused by the rapid increase in urbanisation are also considered.”

In addition, the company aims to use the Joule to fulfil its vision of establishing and leading the electric vehicle industry in South Africa as a springboard to global expansion.

South African roots

The Joule’s interior and exterior was styled by Keith Helfet, who has a long and illustrious history as chief stylist at Jaguar, being responsible for such iconic designs as the XJ220, the XK180 and the F-Type.

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

Meiring, meanwhile, has a strong track record in managing hi-tech projects in South Africa: he has worked as programme manager to Denel’s Rooivalk attack helicopter project, and as project manager for the South African Large Telescope (Salt).

Lithium ion battery packs

The Joule’s chassis has been designed to accommodate two large-cell lithium ion battery packs, which employ chemistry similar to that used in mobile phones and laptop computers. The cells are inherently safe, as they do not contain any heavy metals.

Using a normal 220 volt home outlet and the Joule’s onboard charger, it will take approximately seven hours to recharge the car’s battery pack for a 200 kilometre driving range – with the two battery packs providing 400 kilometres in total.

The car also has regenerative ABS braking technology, through which the batteries are charged when the brakes are used.

The Joule’s large battery bay is able to accommodate a number of different battery configurations from different suppliers, giving the customer the choice of performance and cost.

“Studies show that 99% of urban users drive less than 150 kilometres a day, [and] Optimal Energy recommends that only one battery pack is necessary to power Joule,” said Meiring.

Sufficient grid capacity

Independent analysis of Eskom 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, which will be the recommended recharging time.

The South African province of 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 – throughout Gauteng, Cape Town and Durban – and will be available towards the end of 2010. The Joule was also developed with the international market in mind, and sales and exports will follow shortly after the South African launch.

SAinfo reporter

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