ONE of the biggest and most diverse fleets of working electric vehicles in South Africa provides a showcase of developments in the industry.

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s uYilo e-Mobility Technology Innovation Programme fleet of vehicles include the Nissan (the Leaf), cars built for South Africa’s electric car platform (the Joule), a game viewing vehicle that has been converted to run on electric drive, and “electric all-terrain vehicles” donated by Imperial Green Mobility.

According to Jonathan Cohen, managing director of Imperial Green Mobility, the company is benefiting from work undertaken by the uYilo Programme to evaluate battery life for vehicles operating on different terrains and in identifying which types of electric vehicles are best suited for which terrains.

One of the vehicle platforms is being used for anti-rhino poaching patrols.

“I would like to thank Hiten Parmar and his team for always being so helpful and also for making the sponsorship of the anti-rhino poaching a success,” says Cohen.

According to Parmar, acting director of the uYilo E-Mobility programme, the patrol vehicle is one of eight being tested at Shamwari Game Reserve.

“Shamwari is providing a test environment for the use of electric vehicles in a safari environment, where there is often limited or no grid power. These vehicles will be charged by energy harvested via solar panels, as will the road-going fleet housed at the NMMU.”

Charging stations supplemented via solar power help reduce the environmental impact of electric vehicles, which would otherwise be recharged using electricity from coal-fired power stations.

“All that does is to move the pollution away from where the car is to somewhere else,” he says.

NMMU is focusing on facilitating local technology development to the support electric vehicle industry to meet specific needs in South Africa and the rest of the continent.

uYilo was established in March 2013 by the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA).

The five-year multinational multi-stakeholder programme seeks to ready South Africa for the introduction of e-mobility by creating new business opportunities and generating the know-how to support electric vehicles.

“We are looking beyond the passenger car to niche markets such as the safari and mining sectors that South Africa has the capacity and capability to develop, to add value or to adapt to local conditions,” says Parmar.

Other partners in the programme are BMW South Africa, the Department of Science and Technology, Nissan South Africa, Eskom, the Industrial Development Corporation, Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, Powertech Batteries, the South African National Energy Development Institute, the Department of Trade and Industry and United Nations Industrial Development Organisation.