Electric avenue

To get South Africa out of the slow lane of EV transformation, a team of engineers from Stellenbosch University are turning to public transport.

02 October 2023

Stephan Lacock

Travelling throughout South Africa, there’s one type of vehicle you’ll most likely spot – the Toyota Hiace Ses’fikile. With a tell-tale South African flag on its side and ribbonlike stripes in the same colour scheme, this minibus forms the backbone of the transport sector, with over a quarter of a million vehicles hitting the road daily. As other countries add electric vehicles (EVs) to their driving line-up, Professor Thinus Booysen from Stellenbosch University’s (SU) Department of Industrial Engineering believes the country’s slow adoption of EVs “could put thousands of jobs at risk – the automotive industry and our government cannot afford to be asleep at the wheel”.

This is how the first electric taxi, a retrofitted minibus put together by Booysen and a team of electrical engineering students, came to be. “More than 70% of the trips in South Africa are by minibus in the informal sector, which is why we are hoping to encourage the retrofitting of some of the 250 000 minibuses in the country with electric propulsion,” he says. “These will be cheaper and much more environmentally friendly than new electric vehicles. With this venture, we want to help build the skills that will be needed to manufacture electric vehicles locally and also create awareness about how much we could save with electric taxis.”

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