Written by: Anazi Zote Piper
South Africa (SA) Auto Week is one of the largest automotive events in the South African calendar, hosting 48 vehicle brands and a range of automotive service providers and industry stakeholders. This year SA Auto Week focused on being a business to business (B2B) event attended by automotive leaders from South Africa, with an interest to develop and grow the automotive manufacturing sector and wider automotive industry. The 3-day event consisted of panel discussions, networking, seminars, trade fairs coupled with speed dating opportunities for industry beneficiaries, component suppliers and local OEMs.
Conference delegates this year gathered under the umbrella theme ‘Reimagining the future together – Driving an Industry of the future, today’. One of the main topics highlighted throughout the conference was South Africa’s role in embracing the transition towards NEVs. The expert speakers presented the challenges & opportunities, collaborative efforts, and localisation needed to consider the transition to NEVs.
While South Africa is making commendable progress in transitioning to NEVs, several challenges persist. These include the need for further investment in research and development, ensuring reliable and accessible charging infrastructure, and managing a just transition for workers in traditional automotive sectors. Rentia van Tonder, Head: Power, Corporate & Investment Banking at Standard Bank outlined the purpose of the renewable energy master plan for government to ensure there is reliable energy sources within the country.
“I think government has made great progress in tabling the South African Renewable Energy Master Plan, which was exactly what we all were waiting for… so the master plan outlines the road map for the development of the value chains along the renewable energy rollout of utility scale and private scale type projects. And I think that’s what is important if you look at the roadmap. It is clearly articulating what governments’ plan is in terms of how they see the different components being rolled out locally as well,” says van Tonder.
The transition to NEVs presents a significant opportunity for South Africa’s automotive industry. By investing in the production of electric vehicles and their components domestically, the country can stimulate economic growth, create jobs, and establish itself as a hub for sustainable transportation solutions. Sihle Mdluli, Executive Business Development at Africa Rainbow Mineral echoes this statement, saying South Africa needs to reduce reliance on imports and strengthen the resilience of the automotive sector in the face of global market fluctuations.
“It’s high time for South Africa to turn this industry that has been termed and dubbed a sunset industry into sunrise industry by playing meaningfully in the value chain and as African Rainbow Minerals. We have very great assets in terms of PGM’s and Manganese but also through the years, we spent several years in our R&D that enables us to now meaningfully participate in the value chain for EVs. And we think that will also help in terms of SME participation,” says Mdluli.
The South African government has implemented a series of incentives and policies aimed at accelerating the transition to NEVs. These measures include tax breaks, rebates, and subsidies for consumers and manufacturers of electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrids. Additionally, there are initiatives to establish charging infrastructure across the country, addressing one of the key concerns for potential EV buyers.
Collaborations between the government, private sector, and international organizations have been instrumental in advancing the NEV agenda. South Africa has forged partnerships with global automotive giants, paving the way for joint ventures in research, development, and production of electric vehicles. These collaborations not only foster technology transfer but also stimulate economic growth and job creation within the domestic automotive sector.
“The mineral endowment that we have in South Africa. But if you look at other minerals that are involved, especially in the Southern side of things, you see lithium in Zimbabwe, you see nickel also in Botswana, you see Madagascar with graphite. So as a continent and as sub-Saharan Africa we have all these minerals here. It presents a very great opportunity for regional collaboration. And I think there are other government policies that are there like the Africa Trade Agreement that’s there that can enable this. As an industry we need to identify where we can be strong as a sector in Sub-Saharan Africa,” says Mdluli.
South Africa should take advantage of its mineral abundance whilst transitioning to NEVs. The country is home to an abundance of minerals, including platinum, a crucial component in the production of fuel cells. Platinum, alongside other rare earth elements, forms the backbone of hydrogen fuel cell technology, a promising avenue for sustainable transportation. With a substantial portion of the world’s platinum reserves, South Africa possesses a unique opportunity to become a global leader in fuel cell technology and hydrogen-powered vehicles. Leveraging its abundant resources, implementing supportive policies, and fostering collaborations, South Africa is well on its way to becoming a global leader in the NEV sector.