The Joule, South Africa’s first battery-operated electric car, has been unveiled in Cape Town.

The vehicle is a compact six-seater that looks like an uncluttered mix of a Renault Scenic and a Citroen Picasso. It is due to make its global debut at next month’s Paris Motor Show.

Minister of Science and Technology Mosibudi Mangena drove the silent vehicle at Killarney on Thursday and said afterwards: “At face value, this may seem a foolhardy venture, given the fiercely competitive nature of the car industry, particularly at a time when market conditions for such products are difficult.”

Then he added: “This car is simply gorgeous, and many of us would love to drive it.”

Cape Town company Optimal Energy has spent over two years developing the Joule, with the help of R50-million from the National Research Foundation’s Innovation Fund.

The car was designed by SA-born Keith Helfet, who has also designed a number of high performance Jaguars, such as the iconic XJ-220, XK-180 and F-Type.

Optimal Energy is headed by Kobus Meiring, who worked at Denel Aviation in the 1980s and 1990s. More recently he was project manager of the Southern African Large Telescope project in Sutherland.

Meiring said urban transport played a major role in energy wastage and climate-changing pollution.

“Joule is Optimal Energy’s solution to change that. We have capitalised on the opportunity presented by the exponential increase in oil costs and the dramatic improvement in battery price, life and performance.”

The Joule’s chassis holds two large-cell lithium ion battery packs that give the car a range of 400km. Using a normal 220-volt outlet, recharging takes approximately seven hours.

The vehicle has a regenerative braking system, adding to the car’s range. The body consists of a steel space frame with a combination of composite (glass and carbon) and plastic body panels. The chassis is a flat-wafer structure and is the key to the the Joule’s spacious and versatile interior.

Gauteng is being evaluated for the first Joule assembly plant as it has the biggest cities and has expressed interest in placing the first fleet orders.

It is expected that the local content of the Joule will be more than 50 percent. The car will be available towards the end of 2010 and is expected to cost R200 000.

  • This article was originally published on page 2 of Cape Argus on September 14, 2008