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SA’s roadmap to premium electric mobility

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South Africa can do more to create market access and deliver on an operating environment which makes for good business, says TREVOR HILL – Head of Audi South Africa.

Competition in the premium automotive market is fierce but there is an elephant in the room. The demand we create for alternative mobility technologies (be it fully electric or hybrid) brings with it a very real infrastructure gap. Not addressing this today, will unfortunately prevent any meaningful ability for the local automotive sector to competitively participate in global trends. Doing this right would mean that we can deliver on local customer demand while still operate globally as a competitive automotive investment destination.

There is a firm reality; staying ahead of the pack means constantly innovating current technologies that, to a large degree, progresses the automotive segment as a whole. The downstream benefit of product innovation is clear, but it cannot be the job of the automotive industry alone.  In the premium segment where the desire to drive ahead of the curve is expected, the introduction of new technologies around electrification and artificial intelligence creates real opportunity.

What the South African automotive segment does not need is potential. What it does need is a practical and inclusive plan that supports the growth needed – and more importantly enables both education and adoption for a new world of mobility. To overcome the chicken and egg conundrum we suggest five key focus areas:

1)           We need increased investment in building an infrastructure footprint that actually supports alternative mobility solutions: The automotive industry, in partnership with government and other industry partners, must fuel the development and implementation of charging stations around the country.

2)           We need a deliberate product road map matched to our infrastructure reality: Electrification won’t happen overnight, so we need to build a road map that accommodates hybrid vehicles and that can accommodate any future shifts to fully electric vehicles as and when new technology is phased in.

3)           We need a policy environment that makes good sense and enables the product and infrastructure needs: Currently import duties on electric vehicles are high. Electric vehicles get charged a duty of around 25%, while conventional vehicle imports get charged 18%. Additionally, an ad valorem tax, which is usually charged on luxury items, is also applied to electric vehicles. So the tax on electric vehicle imports stands at about 42% in total. Government needs to look at this policy and reduce import taxes to make the future of mobility less expensive.

4)           We need to increase the size of the pie. A clear and consistent growth plan creates a more stable business environment and more importantly, stabilizes the currency fluctuation impact on the Rand:  Currently, the rand is the strongest it has been in two years. This is attributed to improvements in overall confidence because of increased political stability. However, what is concerning is the longevity of this stability and the resulting impact on the business environment.

5)           We need to make sure that we bring our customers and Dealer partners on the journey with us: Education of customers and Dealer partners is key. If a consumer doesn’t understand what an electric vehicle is, they won’t buy it, even if they have the means. However, if they are educated about the positive impact such vehicles have on the environment, issues of versatility, power output and the technology behind it; then they are more likely to purchase the vehicle. We appreciate that any investment in alternative mobility solutions must be geared towards the end users of these solutions. What is important to understand is that consumers buy electric vehicles for different reasons. For some, it’s a lifestyle choice, wanting to drive green, clean mobility. While other consumers buy electric vehicles to make a statement. Given the environmental benefits, the latter group sees the technology representing cutting edge innovation and they want to be at forefront of this. Customers also need the assurance and the necessary education to dispel any belief that electric vehicles lose the credibility and lack the quality of existing internal combustion engines. Also, a key credibility factor for a more future forward mobility offering is the pace of infrastructure investment that our Dealer partners would need to embark on in order to undeniably accelerate the adoption of alternative mobility. As a direct importer, we need to invest time and effort to ensure that our Dealer partners are willing and able to move their businesses in this direction.

So the road map is clear. Electric mobility means merging the demands of sustainability, everyday usability and performance. This implies integrating current technologies to advance what are often still seen as concept vehicles to cater for consumers in the premium market. It does also mean that parallel investments in infrastructure are needed, especially if we are to cater for the anticipated leapfrog in product line-ups.

Globally, Audi has made significant investments in driving progress towards alternative mobility solutions. This has seen investments in both technology and human capital to make advances in areas such as e-fuel, battery life, range, speed, general performance and aesthetic design.

With this in mind, from 2025 all Audi models will have an electrified drive. We will be launching more than 20 electric cars and plug-in hybrids– spread across all segments and concepts. Over the long-term, Audi plans to set the trend for the premium market, aiming to leverage and combine all of its technologies to reduce the emissions figures and develop sustainable, intelligent electro-mobility concepts.

Driving progress around innovation is a key aspect of our own DNA. Audi has an impressive track record for integrating benchmark technology into our vehicles. However, before complete electrified vehicle fleets are built, we need to ensure that we get a buy-in from government to invest in electric vehicles by showing the economic, environmental and social upliftment that these vehicles will bring to South Africa.

Development is as dynamic as the automotive sector. Once we show the need to introduce electric vehicles into the premium market for those who can afford it, we can focus on developing other areas – recycling batteries; developing battery options with superior charging performance; investigating renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, just to name a few. The future is exciting and it’s more than evident that electric vehicles will benefit South Africans at large.

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Body-tracking tech moves to assembly line

Technology typically used by the world’s top sport stars to raise their game, or ensure their signature skills are accurately replicated in leading video games, is now being used on an auto assembly line.

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Employees at Ford’s Valencia Engine Assembly Plant, in Spain, are using a special suit equipped with advanced body tracking technology. The pilot system, created by Ford and the Instituto Biomecánica de Valencia, has involved 70 employees in 21 work areas. 

Player motion technology usually records how athletes sprint or turn, enabling sport coaches or game developers to unlock the potential of sport stars in the real world or on screen. Ford is using it to design less physically stressful workstations for enhanced manufacturing quality.

“It’s been proven on the sports field that with motion tracking technology, tiny adjustments to the way you move can have a huge benefit,” said Javier Gisbert, production area manager, Ford Valencia Engine Assembly Plant. “For our employees, changes made to work areas using similar technology can ultimately ensure that, even on a long day, they are able to work comfortably.”

Engineers took inspiration from a suit they saw at a trade fair that demonstrated how robots could replicate human movement and then applied it to their workplace, where production of the  new Ford Transit Connect and 2.0-litre EcoBoost Duratec engines began this month.

The skin-tight suit consists of 15 tiny movement tracking light sensors connected to a wireless detection unit. The system tracks how the person moves at work, highlighting head, neck, shoulder and limb movements. Movement is recorded by four specialised motion-tracking cameras – similar to those usually paired with computer game consoles – placed near the worker and captured as a 3D skeletal character animation of the user.

Specially trained ergonomists then use the data to help employees align their posture correctly. Measurements captured by the system, such as an employee’s height or arm length, are used to design workstations, so they better fit employees. 

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Electric cars begin to bridge the luxury gap

A new era has dawned as electric mobility bridges the gap between luxury and necessity, writes TREVOR HILL – head of Audi South Africa.

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Mobility is essential to today’s world. We travel to get to work, to go shopping, and to meet friends and family – in short, effective transport impacts on all aspects of our modern lives. Access to mobility is critical to economic growth and progress, bringing more opportunities and better productivity. At the same time however, growing environmental concerns and a looming shortage of fossil fuels have created tension between our ever-growing demand for mobility and the health of our planet.

Growing populations, increasing urbanization and economic and social development mean that there are more cars on our roads each day. The knock-on effects of this are greater levels of congestion and longer times spent commuting, which means more stress and higher levels of aggression on the road. Skyrocketing levels of air pollution – to which transportation is one of the leading contributors – has negative effects on both health and climate change, both of which are key issues in global policy agendas.

So, the writing has been on the wall for some time. The gold standard in automotive technological progress has thus been to achieve a radical reduction of engine emissions and the development of electric cars has been at the forefront of this charge. We have now entered the beginning of a new era, as more and more of these vehicles take to the roads. Electric cars are now at the cusp of the mass market, with a steady stream of new models set to reach the consumer in future. Last week, we launched the Audi e-tron, our first all-electric-drive SUV, at a world premiere in San Francisco – one huge leap forward in pursuit of our goal. Audi will also bring more than 20 electrified models to the market by 2025, from the compact class to the full-size category. Around a dozen models will be all-electric, while the remainder will be plug-in hybrids for emission-free driving on shorter journeys.

Powering this development is ongoing improvement in battery technology, with increasing energy density and lengthened driving ranges possible between charges. Consumers have noted that they feel confident using electric cars for day-to-day use once battery technology can sustain a driving range of 300 or more kilometres, which is now possible. The Audi e-tron has a range of 400 kilometers, making it ideal for long distance driving. Drivers who charge the e-tron overnight can set off in the morning in full confidence that they won’t need to stop at a charging station as they go about their day.

What this technological progress also means however, is that the levels of power and performance achieved by an electric car draw ever closer to those of traditional engines. For anyone who loves high strung, powerful engines and the rush of adrenaline that comes from flooring the throttle on an empty stretch of road, this is no small thing.  At Audi, we are lucky to be surrounded by some of the most exceptional engines ever produced, so few people understand the thrill of an extraordinary driving experience better than we do. So, the holy grail is to achieve this same performance with vastly improved economy.

The Audi e-tron’s electric drive has two asynchronous motors, one at the front, one at the rear, with a total output of 300 kW of power. This allows the Audi e-tron to accelerate from 0 to 100km/h in just 5.7 seconds.

The next step will be the development of electric cars suitable for those who regularly drive long distances, entailing further advances in battery technology, and the development of a network of charging stations across the country. The battery for the Audi e-tron is designed to last the entire life cycle of the vehicle. When charged at a high-power charging station at up to 150 kW, the Audi e-tron can be restored to 80% in less than half an hour. At 22 kW, the Audi e-tron can charge its battery to 100% in around four and a half hours.

For city dwellers, however, the age of electric mobility has well and truly arrived. Rapid advances in technology continue to drive progress; the rise of electric cars is only one of many developments set to transform transportation as we know it, heralding a cleaner, more efficient future.

 

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