What comes to mind when you think of cars? To others, cars are just mobility, convenient machinery to get us from point A to B. However, some have developed strong relationships with cars, and I don’t blame them. Cars are a great reminder of history, a symbol of innovation, a clear demonstration of human civilization, and they are absolutely beautiful, both inside and out. I will never forget the first time I got into my car, the smell of virgin materials welcoming me as I tightly felt the steering wheel for the first time, and the thrill I felt when I started the engine.
Unfortunately, combustion cars are creating more harm than good. According to the 2023 Circularity Report developed by the Circularity Gap Reporting Initiative in partnership with Deloitte, approximately 25% of GHG emissions globally are caused by transport and mobility. These GHG emissions contribute largely to climate change and ocean acidification; however, replacing an engine with a battery in an industry like transport which includes air, water, and other forms of land mobility will not fix all the negative environmental effects caused by combustion transport; in truth, we need to rethink and redesign the transport and mobility sector.
If you ask any sound leader in the transport and mobility sector, especially the automotive industry, what their most important success metric is, chances are they will say it is the total number of units sold year on year. But, unfortunately, this is where the problem begins. For years, the automotive industry has been mainly focused on doing one thing and one thing only: selling as many cars each year as possible. According to Statista Research Department, Worldwide car sales grew to an estimated 66.1 million automobiles in 2022, down from around 66.7 million units in 2021 but here is the sad truth, all the cars 66.1 million cars sold last year will be dumbed in the bin (scrapped) in the next 13 years. This is because an average car goes through 5 owners or travels 165,000-200,000 miles before it is scrapped. Moreover, these cars will not be used to their fullest by their owners; across the world, cars are parked at least 92% of the time.
Environmental challenges caused by the mobility and transport sector are not only on emissions; all car manufacturers directly on indirectly extract valuable materials from the earth to make cars. These valuable materials include steel, aluminium, magnesium, copper, plastics, composites, rubber, glass, fabric/leather and a few more. But, unfortunately, all these materials will also go to waste!
So how will electric cars change this?
In the past few months, I had a chance to sit with two of the largest car manufacturers in the world - BMW Group (Mini Cooper) and Volkswagen AG. The agenda was electric car adoption in South Africa, and I realized that, if we are not careful electric cars (EVs) can create and even accelerate the materials issues we are facing with combustion cars. However, the exciting news is that electric cars are giving us a great chance to make everything we did wrong with combustion cars right, starting with materials used in the production of EVs. For example, several models only use recycled and recyclable materials, including the most important EV component- the battery. Recovered materials can be processed and used to manufacture new lithium-ion batteries.
This month (Feb), I had the honour of sitting down with Hildegard Wortmann, member of the Board of Management for AUDI AG and member of the Extended Executive Committee for Volkswagen AG in Nelson Mandela’s primary place of residence- Sanctuary Mandela.
In our discussion, we discussed why EVs are an important part of a truly circular world. Audi is preparing South Africa for an EV-led future:In January 2022, Audi South Africa announced a partnership with GridCars to install ultra-fast charging stations across the country. The investment into the charging infrastructure was critical to ensure ease of charging anywhere within the country for our customers.
By pioneering this technology, Audi has helped install the fastest public chargers in the country to date. In partnership with GridCars, the project has resulted in 33 installations of fast and ultra-fast EV chargers. This includes four 150kW (DC) ultra-fast, five 80kW (DC) fast and twenty-four 22kW (AC) EV charger installations.
Audi Centre Centurion (based in Gauteng province) has invested in solar power to bolster the charging facilities and services for clients; the investment in solar-powered innovation is to enable a more sustainable and friendly way of doing business. Audi is one of many brands making significant investments in EVs.
BMW Group has 230 current charging ports in South Africa and has over five fully electric models available. Additionally, Mini cooper, a sub-subsidiary of BMW Group, launched MINI ELECTRIC. This model came with an invitation to all young change-makers in South Africa. Last year in November, I was super excited to be invited by Mini Cooper as one of the change-makers during the Electric Collective launch; this is a platform for change markers to engage, inspire and solve the unsolvable. The collective is inspired by a study suggesting that when just 3.5% of the population takes action, it never fails to bring about meaningful change. Being part of the launch made me realize that our environmental challenges will not only be solved by companies, governments or individuals. Our climate crisis will only be solved by uniting our actions.
Electric cars come with exciting artificial intelligence technology that will help us use the car to the fullest, open new possibilities and make mobility and transport far more sustainable.