Motor manufacturers foresee that there will be up to four billion cars on the road by 2050, leaving roads congested and the environment under pressure. South talks to car bosses about their plans to resolve the impending personal mobility dilemma.

WORDS Richard Webb

As global prosperity and the populations of big cities increase, along with the resultant increase in traffic, the heads of various motor corporations all agree new technologies are key to finding a solution to the impending problem.

Jaguar Land Rover South Africa managing director Richard Govendeur says global megatrends, such as expected increased affluence and megacities (cities with populations in excess of 10 million people), will place pressure on transport systems, fuel prices and natural resources. “While these factors bring opportunities, they also bring challenges,” he says.

Bill Ford Junior, Henry Ford’s great-grandson and Ford Motor Company chairman, agrees. “There are about a billion vehicles on the road worldwide. But with more people and greater global prosperity, that number is expected to double, and possibly double again by 2050. This will create global gridlock on a scale the world has never seen before.” Speaking to South in Dubai last year, Bill said building more roads would not help reduce gridlock, and motor-, infrastructure- and technology manufacturers would have to address the bigger picture.

“We are already building smart cars, but we also need to build smart roads, smart parking, smart public transportation systems and more – and we need to connect them all using wireless telecommunications.” His company is currently running 25 mobility experiments around the world; from car-sharing schemes to mobile phone applications that help drivers find parking spaces.

In South Africa, other factors enter the arena, such as Eskom’s ability to provide sufficient electricity to support technology.

Nissan is a leading producer of electric vehicles (EVs) in South Africa and, while power supply is under pressure, the company insists immense progress has been made in the area of sustainable energy. “Charging of electric vehicles does not put significant pressure on the grid. A Nissan LEAF needs 24kW to fully charge, giving a range of 190km. A 100km journey in a petrol car can cost well over R100, while the LEAF – using only 13kW at R1.30 per kW – will be under R20,” says Nissan South Africa spokesman Veralda Schmidt.

She says linking automotive and housing needs through solar power should be a holistic lifestyle change. “One of the first LEAF owners, Greg Ball, has clocked up 27 000km since the car’s launch locally late in 2013, the equivalent of R35 000 worth of fuel. Being ‘off the grid’, he only paid R3500 to charge his vehicle in cases where they tapped into the grid as a result of bad weather.”

Edward Makwana, BMW South Africa group automotive communications manager, is positive the current power supply crisis will be resolved. “We need to work with Eskom to find ways of taking pressure off the grid. For example, after the market launch of the BMW i3 and i8 this year, BMW is looking at offering solar charging options for customers purchasing their plug-in hybrid BMW i3 and BMW i8 models to take pressure off the grid.”

However, not everyone agrees that EVs are the best green option in the local context. Mercedes-Benz South Africa divisional marketing manager Selvin Govender says South Africans travel longer distances than their European counterparts. Selvin believes the lack of suitable infrastructure required for EVs would not allow for convenient motoring. “Our long-term green objective is zero-emissions mobility and a focus on hybrids – particularly plug-in hybrids. By 2017 we will have introduced no fewer than ten new models with plug-in hybrid powertrains.”

While demand in the UK for plug-in hybrid cars has quadrupled in the past year, Kia South Africa public relations and product marketing manager Christo Valentyn says the adoption of hybrid vehicles in South Africa has so far been dismal. “In our context, the feasibility of electric vehicles is debatable due to infrastructure and our ‘dirty’ electricity, and I fear that the uptake of such technology by South African consumers would remain marginal even if there were government subsidies,” he says.

Edward, however, says: “Worldwide, we expect EVs to take four to eight per cent of the total market by 2020. Therefore, we cannot say that just because we have a power supply crisis, we should limit the introduction of electric cars. It is all about being visionary and able to address the challenges of the future now.”

While smart and green cars may be the future, true motor heads are also concerned about continued performance and the joy of driving. Manufacturers insist the two are reconcilable: “We don’t want our cars to lose anything of their fascination. Quite the reverse, in fact, we are making them better than ever,” says Selvin.

But personal mobility extends beyond driving smart- and green cars, to include a range of options that address congestion issues. Interconnectivity between vehicle and mobile devices are being explored to provide integrated solutions, including railway travel, walking and even cycling. Ten per cent of new cars are connected to the Internet today, but 90% of them will be by 2020. Technology-based car-share and pick-up services such as Uber, Car Share and Traveleze are already a reality across South Africa. “Our industry has made some of its greatest achievements when faced with a serious challenge. This is one of those moments,” says Bill.

Can cars be clean, green and mean?

In a world focused on smarter and greener vehicles, will there still be a place for mean machines that are powerful, fast and just plain decadent?

Among those wanting to prove it can be done is Ford, which launched the 2015 Mustang Convertible in spectacular form in Dubai late last year.

To celebrate Ford’s new Middle East and Africa business unit, the car was launched on the 112th floor of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. “Mustang is going global after 50 years as America’s greatest motoring icon,” said Bill Ford Junior, Ford Motor Company chairman. Ford will launch 25 vehicles in the region by 2016, including the all-new right-hand drive Mustangs this year.

The Mustang GT boasts a 5.0-litre V8 with 324kW and 542Nm and uses 12.3-litres per 100km combined. The 2.3-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder turbo uses 9.4/100km for those who value economy over outright oomph. “This EcoBoost engine delivers where a Mustang driver expects it to – with a broad, flat torque curve that pours out when you stand on it for easy passing or hustling down a twisty road,” says the car’s chief engineer, Dave Pericak.