SA electric vehicle a reality

SA electric vehicle a reality

South Africa hasn’t given up on its dream of creating an electric vehicle – and there’s a converted-to-run-on-electricity Jeep Grand Cherokee on our roads to prove it! The idea of a silent game viewing 4×4 is no longer a pipe dream. The order book is open …

The dream of creating a homegrown electric vehicle (EV) didn’t die with the closure of the government-funded Optimal Energy. With massive resources and a team of skilled engineers and renowned designers, Optimal Energy had a vehicle – the Joule – ready to put into production. However, unable to secure the private investment required to do so, it was forced to close its doors earlier this year after seven hard years of work.

But it showed that South Africans have the drive and ability to make the EV dream a reality – and that’s exactly what Antony English and Lizette Kriel from Freedom Won have done. The company was set up by its engineer and entrepreneur owners in 2009 with the aim of making economical, safe and environmentally friendly converted EVs available to the public at realistic prices. By going the conversion route, Freedon Won believes the concept can come to market without massive upfront investment in mass production and heavy reliance on government subsidies.

The technology was developed to allow easy conversion of conventional cars to electric power. English selected a Jeep Grand Cherokee for the pilot conversion and got the wheels turning on his project. A 30 kW (continuous – 45 kW maximum) air-cooled four-pole three-phase induction motor replaced the Jeep’s old six-cylinder and is connected directly to the transfer case via a short driveshaft, driving the wheels through the original axle differentials (yes, it retains its four-wheel drive capability).

A 600V DC battery pack, made up from a number of large format high performance lithium-ion cells, was fitted to provide the “juice”, with an onboard charger that connects to a simple custom-installed high-power charging supply. The charger is capable of charging a fully discharged battery pack in three to four hours. The vehicle can also be charged in five to six hours using an ordinary 16A 230V household socket. The system includes regenerative braking for maximum efficiency and range.

This combination allows the 200+ Nm (available at any driving speed) motor to provide a 150 km range between charges and 100 km/h highway driving speed. Most importantly, the vehicle uses absolutely no fossil fuel and produces no emissions.

Freedom Won has been testing the prototype since December 2011, and reports that electric Jeep Grand Cherokee is performing as expected in terms of reliability, safety and operability.

The company is now bringing to market affordable and effective EV conversions combining the latest commercially available components.

SA electric vehicle a realityThe average conversion takes four months to complete, and most vehicles can be converted – with electric motors available up to a maximum power of 60 kW. Each conversion can be custom designed, taking into account requirements and budgets.

“Our key strategy is to demonstrate the viability and long-term benefits and value of driving and owning converted electric vehicles, with the longer term vision of a large scale uptake of the EV concept,” says Kriel.

Freedom Won states that the electric drive conversion concept is not only exciting for the everyday commuter but provides excellent opportunities for niche market penetration, including:

Electric game viewing vehicles – offering silent and smooth operation for 4x4s in on and off road conditions;

Mining industry light vehicles – including mine pit 4x4s and underground LDVs for mines with drive-in declines;

Airport vehicles – including general delivery, apron services, VIP transport and mini shuttle buses;

Minibus taxi industry – electric taxis will reduce operating costs by up to 80 percent;

Agricultural – general farm 4×4 runabouts for farmers looking to reduce their diesel consumption.

English and Kriel are keen to demonstrate their vehicle’s capabilities, but therein lies a challenge – so if any readers are interested in having a vehicle converted, let us know and we’ll be glad to do a report-back.

And who knows, maybe this small project by a couple of enthusiasts will prove to electrify the market the way the Joule never will.

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