Joule, the electric vehicle from South African company Optimal Energy, is on display at the 80th International Motor Show in Geneva in a form tantalisingly close to the planned production version.
Designed by South African-born Keith Helfet – well known for his design of the iconic Jaguar XJ220 – Joule has been developed from a static display model and engineering prototype into a pre-production prototype by Zagato’s Total Design Centre, and Joule deservedly forms the centrepiece of a stand at Geneva shared by Optimal Energy and the iconic Milanese design house.
The Optimal Energy-Zagato-Helfet team has made a number of changes to Joule and the car shown in Geneva is somewhat different, especially at the rear, from the version first unveiled in Paris two years ago. This car was hand-built in Port Elizabeth by Hi-Tech Automotive, which is responsible for building a marketing and test fleet of approximately 100 vehicles. These will double as research and development units, some of which will be on South African roads by the start of the Soccer World Cup in June.
Joule’s mantra is Born Electric. A key strength and differentiator of Optimal Energy is freedom from many of the constraints that affect traditional car companies. As virtually the only automotive manufacturer focused exclusively on electric cars for the mass market, everything Optimal Energy does is directed towards achieving that goal. Not only has this fresh approach led to the creation of a new kind of car, but it will ultimately also lead to a new way of buying a car and a new kind of customer ownership experience.
Full-scale production of Joule will begin at the end of 2012, with cars in showrooms by mid-2013. Key design goals for the finished product include a range of 230 kilometres based on the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) or 300 km using the Urban Dynamometer Driving Schedule (UDDS); integration with existing charging infrastructure; a genuine freeway cruising capability; seating for five; a 4-star NCAP safety rating and a retail price of €24 300, or roughly R260 000 at today’s exchange rate.
Optimal Energy has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with EDAG, a German automotive full service supplier, to industrialise the Joule. EDAG has built an outstanding reputation working with many well known carmakers over the past 40 years, and in partnering with EDAG, Optimal Energy is ensuring that the best of German automotive engineering will be integrated into the series production Joule.
Optimal Energy has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Energy Innovation Group (EIG), a South Korean lithium battery cell supplier, to explore the potential of setting up a manufacturing facility in South Africa, for the non-exclusive supply of cells to Optimal Energy. The Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa (IDC), as potential investor, is party to this Memorandum. The IDC is currently an investor in Optimal Energy.
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) of South Africa has just announced its 2010 – 2013 Industrial Policy Action Plan, in which the commercialisation of South Africa’s electric car is specifically addressed. This includes the provision of appropriate support to encourage local manufacture of EV’s and related components, infrastructure roll-out for such EV’s, creation of testing facilities, provision of demand stimulation mechanisms and public education on the use and benefits of alternative energy source vehicles.
These are major steps towards reaching Optimal Energy’s vision of establishing and leading the electric vehicle industry in South Africa and expanding globally.