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South African Company Unveils Locally Developed Electric Car

Optimal Energy, a privately-owned South African company based in Cape Town, is launching an indigenous all-electric vehicle. Named Joule, the zero-emission car is a six-seater MPV (multi-purpose vehicle). Designed by Optimal Energy in association with South African-born automotive designer, Keith Helfet, the Joule made its global debut at the Paris Motor Show (04-19 October).

Optimal Energy’s Joule. Click to enlarge.

Joule has two drive options: a purpose-built asynchronous permanent magnet motor driving the front wheels through an 8:1 reduction gearbox; and asynchronous permanent magnet motors located in the wheels, for rear or four wheel drive.

Joule’s chassis has been designed to accommodate two large format lithium-ion battery packs. Using a 220V home outlet and Joule’s onboard charger, it will take approximately seven hours to recharge a single Joule battery pack for a 200 km (124 miles) driving range, with two packs providing 400 km (249 miles) in total. Joule’s battery bay can accommodate a number of different battery configurations from different suppliers, giving the customer the choice of performance and cost.

An analysis by Eskom, the country’s sole electricity provider, concluded that the South African grid has enough capacity to supply electrical energy to millions of cars without affecting its customer base or requiring any additional infrastructure. Eskom has excess electricity between 11 pm and 6 am; this will be the recommended recharging time.

Optimal is evaluating the South African Province of Gauteng for its first assembly plant as it has the biggest cities and has expressed interest in placing the first fleet orders. Although supplier lists are not yet final, it is expected that the local content of Joule will be more than 50%. Optimal plans to sell Joule in all major South African centers—Gauteng, Cape Town and Durban. Joule will be available towards the end of 2010. Joule was developed for the international market and sales and exports will follow shortly after the South African launch.

(A hat-tip to Albertus!)



Interesting project.
"it is expected that the local content of Joule will be more than 50%."
South Africa has a well established automotive manufacturing sector so it is quite feasible that they could build for export. BMW Mercedes VW & Toyota all have established assembly plants, so quality can be to premium brand standard.

"Eskom has excess electricity between 11 pm and 6 am"
Eskom electricity utility has increased electricity output substantially since the end of Apartheid in response to a steep increase in electricity demand as more homes have been connected to the grid. Peak demand now exceeds supply and Eskom needs another revenue stream such as off peak charging of BEVs to fund investment in new capacity. South Africa has already developed most of its internal Hydro Electric capacity as well as Cabora-Bassa hydro dam in Mozambique. There are some large hydro power opportunities available in other African states if the finance can be found.
South Africa also has some wind power potential, but wind power projects have been bogged down in wild life conservation discussions.

The company's founders come with a very impressive track record of delivery on a helicopter project and a large telescope project, so they are not in the habit of producing vapour ware:

"Mike Lomberg is a former military experimental test pilot, having graduated as a test pilot from the National Test Pilot School of Mojave, California. He was employed as a test pilot with Denel Aviation and then as the test program manager for the Rooivalk Attack Helicopter Program. In 1996, Mike was appointed as the Manager of the Flight Test Division.
In 1999, Mike was appointed as the Business Manager for the SALT Foundation (Pty) Ltd, the company that was set up to build, commission and operate the Southern African Large Telescope, where he also served as Company Secretary.
Following the inauguration of the telescope in November 2005, he became one of the four founder shareholders and serves as Optimal Energy’s Business Manager."

The styling is impressively sophisticated, and comes from a former Chief Stylist at Jaguar:
"With a natural affinity for automotive design, South African-born Keith Helfet completed the most prestigious automotive styling programme in the world at the Royal College of Art in London. Helfet became the Chief Stylist at Jaguar where his work was admired by Sir William Lyons, who had shaped the character of design for decades. Helfet designed a number of high performance Jaguars, such as the iconic XJ-220 and the XK-180 and F-Type. The multiple award-winning Helfet now runs his own design company, Helfet Design, which he started in 1993. He has worked closely with Optimal Energy since 2006 to imagineer Joule, the African design sensation."

John Taylor

This is good news for the environment.
Electric cars are a technical reality, and should be produced.
South Africa joins the growing number of countries with a new BEV startup.


The design of the battery bay just makes sense.

Henry Gibson

It is amusing that the country that began the development of the now well tested ZEBRA battery does not mention its possible use in their electric car startup. (ZEolite Battery Reseach project Africa)

Full electric vehicles are a misuse of high priced present battery technology. Small fuel powered backup generators must be required by law for full functionality, but mostly to eliminate any conversation about range limits, so that plug-in-hybrids will be acceptible to the public. ..HG..


It does make sense to add more batteries for more range, if needed. No sense carrying around the weight if you do not need to.


Good to see this credible effort from S.A.
Could be an export earner.
Remote power generation from renewables wind solar and others and off peak grid generation are multifunctional in the context of developing nations without highly developed grid.
In this circumstance, it can be cheaper, more reliable to have small stand alone plant. Costs can be controlled and transport of fuels (logistics) could show combined benefits.


I like the concept and configuration of this car. It should be a winner if they deliver price and quality in the correct ball park.

Good luck with commercialization.

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