The Slow Road to the Electric Vehicles Breakthrough in South Africa

May 13th, 2024
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In the race towards a greener, more sustainable future, electric vehicles (EVs) have become a beacon of innovation and environmental stewardship in many parts of the world. But we have to take a second and focus on the realities such innovation brings to the table with regards to the South African market. Despite considerable hype and impressive sales in other advanced markets, a recent study our go-to™ Insights team reveals the opposite side of the coin – that South Africa may not be ready to fully embrace the EV revolution just yet.

The comprehensive report, which sampled opinions from 1,108 South African consumers, uncovers a paradox in the local EV landscape. While an overwhelming 90% of respondents are aware of electric vehicles – thanks largely to social media, television, and online articles – their actual knowledge, understanding and practical functionality about these vehicles remains startlingly low. This disparity is not just a trivial fact; it significantly stifles the consideration and breakthrough of EVs in the South African market.

A major key finding hones in on the reality that despite South Africa having one of the best electric car charging networks globally, so-called “recharge anxiety” persists, exacerbated by frequent load shedding. This fear significantly contributes to the hesitancy around EV adoption.

Price perception and affordability also loom large as barriers. Even though one of the recognised benefits of EV ownership is the potential for fuel cost savings, the initial purchase price and the fear of insufficient charging infrastructure deter potential buyers. Additionally, the preference for EVs seems to lean towards luxury brands, with Tesla – which is ironically unavailable in South Africa – being top of mind for one in five consumers. Other recognised brands include BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Volvo, Porsche, and Jaguar, all of which are often associated with higher price tags, ultimately seeming less accessible.

The study also highlights a significant opportunity among younger consumers. This demographic exhibits a keen interest in EVs, driven by environmental consciousness – a value deeply ingrained in their lifestyle choices.

So, how do we get from point A to point B to capitalise on the burgeoning interest and overcome prevailing challenges?

  1. Education and Awareness: There is a critical need to enhance understanding of EVs beyond mere recognition. EV brands need to leverage and invest in social media and other accessible platforms to not only promote, but to also educate consumers about the benefits and practicalities of owning an EV.
  2. Addressing “Recharge” Anxiety: Efforts must be intensified to dispel myths about charging infrastructure and range limitations. Clear, factual communication will offer support in mitigating fears of being stranded without power.
  3. Market Diversification: Currently, the EV market is skewed towards affluent buyers. Introducing more affordable models and broadening the range can help make these vehicles accessible to a wider audience.
  4. Engaging the Youth: Brands should consider targeted campaigns that resonate with the values of younger consumers, emphasising sustainability and technological innovation.

While South Africa shows potential for an electric vehicle boom, brands will have to put in a significant amount of work to turn awareness into knowledge and action. As the global push towards sustainability accelerates, the local market must not only catch up but be prepared to lead in its own right.

Author: Jessica Bristow, Insights Strategy and Innovation Director

*The research was conducted by IQbusiness Insights in March 2024 with a digital sample representative of Urban South Africans. The 1108 participants were sourced through the African Pulse Insights Community.

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