A South African-designed, battery-operated passenger car is to be unveiled early next year, Deputy Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom said today. The development of the vehicle — described as “beautiful” by those who have had a glimpse of the design sketches — could not have come at a better time, he told MPs during debate in Parliament on the science and technology budget vote.

“The project… involves a range of stakeholders, including South African universities and industry. The first prototype of this vehicle

will be launched by the end of this year, or early next year.

“Given our economy’s vulnerability to volatile oil prices, and growing concerns about the pollution resulting from fossil-fuel transport, the timing of this development could not have been better,” Hanekom said. Dr Boni Mehlomakulu, group executive of the department’s research, development and innovation programme, told Sapa that both a passenger

and a utility vehicle were currently being developed. The passenger vehicle, “designed by a former Jaguar designer”, was a six-seater. It had a range of between 100km and 400km, depending on the speed at which it was driven, and the roof incorporated solar panels to

help charge the battery when it was parked in the sun.

The utility vehicle, which Mehlomakulu described as “like a panel van”, was a three-seater. Both vehicles could be plugged into the mains at night — when demand for electricity was low — to charge their batteries, which were imported from China. Mehlomakulu was reluctant to divulge further details of the vehicle

designs, saying development was still underway. She also declined to release photographs or sketches, saying this would be done closer to the launch. Funding for the project came from the department’s Innovation Fund, “which funds projects that have potential for commercialisation”.

Asked how many units were planned, she said initial production, in 2010, would be about 4000 units a year. An amount of R300m was

needed to build a factory to produce the vehicles. Initially, the vehicles would be produced for the government fleet,

an arrangement that had provided backers of the project with an entry

point to the local car market.

Further sales would obviously depend on demand, and whether

investors could be found. On what the vehicles would cost, Mehlomakulu said there was “no pricing model at this stage”

DATED: 30th May 2008