To find answers to five key questions about electric vehicle long-distance travel in South Africa.
Having reviewed the Jaguar I-PACE Experience for a few hours in April 2022, I finally got the chance to take this all-electric SUV on a week-long road trip from Johannesburg to Durban and back during July 2023.
There aren’t that many long distance options for eco-conscious travellers in South Africa. So, before we get into this electric vehicle (EV) story, let’s consider what domestic transport options are available.
The distance between Johannesburg and Durban is approximately 569 km and there are only four modes of travel to get there; by plane, by bus, by bike, or by car (by train used to be popular, but is sadly no longer an option).
Each mode of travel has time and cost constraints.
By plane, the distance can be covered in 1h10m and can cost between R934 — R3,308.
By bus, the coach journey will take 8h15m and can cost between R220 — R1,000.
By bike is an option, although the travel time and fuel costs would vary according the engine capacity (anything from 50 cc to 2,300 cc). By cycle could be an option but that’d increase the distance to 750 km (avoiding the N3 highway) and would take about 37,5 hours of non-stop pedaling.
By car, the journey can take about 6 hours and cost around R1,328 (assuming fuel consumption at 10L/100km at the current inland fuel rate of R23.34 per litre of 95 octane petrol).
Except for cycling, none of the above options are eco-friendly as all four modes of transport produce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. There is, however, a fourth option — travelling in an all-electric vehicle, which means that, locally, the vehicle is 100% CO2 emission-free.
But five key questions about driving all-electric vehicles long distance remain unanswered:
1. In terms of time, how long will an all-electric car take to travel 569 km?
2. How often will the battery need recharging, and for how long?
3. Where are EV battery charging stations located along the N3 route?
4. Will the return journey (Durban to Johannesburg) consume more battery power?
5. How does the cost of driving a battery electric vehicle (BEV) compare to an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle?
These are the questions I set out to find answers to during my road trip along the N3 freeway from Johannesburg to Durban, along the KwaZulu-Natal N2 coastal freeway, and back to Johannesburg, while driving the Jaguar I-PACE EV400.
And to add a bit of intrigue to this 1,722 km journey, I took my Siberian Husky, Jaxx, along for the ride (after all, that’s what a sport utility vehicle is intended for, right?). I even wrote a series of daily blog posts recording Jaxx’s Ride4Huskies travelogue from a dog’s perspective.
Before I answer the five key questions, there are several aspects to long-distance travel in an electric car that must be considered.
As previously reported, the I-PACE has been designed from the ground up for optimum aerodynamic performance, so driving with the windows down (as I often did with a dog in the car) causes wind-drag and reduces power efficiency.
Cool feature #1: The air suspension can be raised for off-road surface conditions by pressing a button on the centre console. When the I-PACE exceeds 105 km/h, it automatically adjusts ground clearance by dropping the air suspension to improve aerodynamics and road traction at higher speeds.
Cool feature #2: The I-PACE’s front grill vanes open when cooling the battery and close when not needed to smooth airflow, while side air-intake vents, bonnet scoop, and retractable door handles all contribute to streamlining the cars’ aerodynamic performance.
Road inclines (like the N3 stretch along Van Reenen’s Pass, especially on the return trip) consume more battery power. Conversely, road declines conserve power (in Enhanced Brake Regeneration — EBR mode, the vehicle recuperates almost all braking energy, helping to maximise the I-PACEs range).
With 696Nm of instant torque at your disposal, the urge to experience the I-PACEs phenomenal acceleration can be hard to resist. But overtaking slower vehicles and fast accelerations from stand-still do drain the battery, so restraint on long-distance road trips is essential to conserve the BEV’s range.
The Jaguar I-PACEs 90 kWh Lithium-ion battery claims a full-charge travel distance range of 470 km. However, the EV400 model I drove only attained a maximum range of 348 km at 100% charge and 312 km at 90% charge. Monitoring the car’s estimated EV range, charging status, charge rate, and other indicators is possible using Jaguar’s downloadable app. But my old Samsung Galaxy S6 isn’t compatible with the app, so I relied on the car”s dashboard range display. Monitoring the car’s remaining battery status and distance range proved to be reasonably accurate as the I-PACE factors driving style and road gradient conditions into the equation.
For the downward (Johannesburg to Durban) trip, I set the I-PACEs autocruise control to match the N3 highways average speed limit of 120km/h. I then set the car’s forward radar sensor to mid-range, which auto-applies braking about three car lengths from an approaching vehicle. I also activated the I-PACEs lane-assist feature to auto-steer the car within road lane boundaries. For comfort, the I-PACEs auto-climate control and front seat heating were also activated.
What I didn’t realise, at the time, is that all of these automated features impact the car’s battery and range. For example, the N3 is congested with slow-moving freight trucks (an unforgivable consequence of South Africa’s state-owned railway service collapse along this route). Freight trucks travelling at 80–100 km/h frequently overtake slower trucks, invariably on uphill gradients, causing the I-PACEs autocruise to brake sharply and accelerate rapidly once the overtaking truck has returned to its lane.
Couple the above factors with misjudging the available distance range and the EV will end up powerless. Which is exactly what happened!
With the I-PACE displaying an estimated available range of 45 km and the navigation display showing 38 km to the next recharge station, I figured that the 7 km difference would suffice as a safety margin. What I hadn’t figured on was the uphill road gradient to get there. By the time I got to a straight section of highway the EV car ran out of energy and quit — just 8.8km from the Mooiriver charging station!
At that point, I forgot that there are two flip-down panels on either side of the ceiling speakers to make a direct call to the Jaguar Assistance team. Instead, I used my mobile phone to make call the emergency response team who then directed a Mooi Auto Clinic tow truck to my GPS location.
For the upward (Durban to Johannesburg) trip, I set the I-PACEs autocruise control to 110km/h (and frequently re-adjusted the setting on stretches where speed limit signs indicated 100km/h or even 80km/h). I also disengaged all non-essential auto features to conserve battery power.
Before departing on the road trip, I checked the GridCars live map for available EV charge stations along the N3 and N2 freeways and plotted the entire 1,722 km route based on the I-PACEs assumed 470 km range. Due to the aforementioned aspects, pre-planning proved to be pointless.
So, with the above aspects in mind, here are the five key question answers:
In terms of time, how long will an all-electric car take to travel 569 km?
11h08m. Including 04h13m to recharge the battery (on the return trip -Durban to Johannesburg). Excluding the battery recharge stops, the 569 km journey took 06h55m.
My actual route departed from Umkomaas (Widenham) on the KZN South Coast at 08:15 am and arrived at my destination in Rietkol (Delmas, Mpumalanga) at 08:35 pm covering a distance of 625 km in 12h33m (08h20m actual driving time).
How often will the battery need recharging, and for how long?
Four battery recharge stops at an average wait time of 01h05m per charge. The actual battery, range, and charge time readings of the return trip were:
Departure: Umkomaas (Widenham).
Departure time: 08:15 am. Available battery charge on departure: 79%. Available distance range on departure: 280 km.
Recharge stop 1: Pietermaritzburg (Jaguar dealership).
Arrival time: 10:30 am. Distance travelled: 128 km. Travelling time: 02h25m. Available battery charge on arrival 44%. Available distance range on arrival: 150 km. Estimated range vs actual distance travelled: 02 km (energy saving). Note: Due to road maintenance along the Lynnfield Park section of the N3, I took the Ashburton R103 alternate route to Pietermaritzburg).
Charging time: 01h08m. Public AC session ended with 14.60kWh recharged at a cost of R29.54.
Departure time: 11:38 am. Available battery charge on departure 53%. Available distance range on departure 184 km.
Recharge stop 2: Mooi River (Engen Mooi 1 Stop).
Arrival time: 12:20 pm. Distance travelled: 62 km. Travelling time: 00h42m. Available battery charge on arrival 32%. Available distance range on arrival: 102 km. Estimated range vs actual distance travelled: 20 km (energy loss).
Charging time: 00h55m. DC session ended with 49.60kWh recharged, for 83% SoC, at a cost of R364.70.
Departure time: 01:15 pm. Available battery charge on departure 83%. Available distance range on departure 278 km.
Recharge stop 3: Harrismith, KwaZulu-Natal (Engen 1-Stop Bergview — Protea Hotel*).
Arrival time: 02:50 pm. Distance travelled: 138 km. Travelling time: 01h38m. Available battery charge on arrival 38%. Available distance range on arrival: 128 km. Estimated range vs actual distance travelled: -12 km (energy loss).
Charging time: 01h05m. DC session ended with 16.64kWh recharged at a cost of R122.35.
Departure time: 03:55 pm. Available battery charge on departure 50%. Available distance range on departure 171 km.
*22kW charger intended for overnight guests (load-shedding reduced charge capacity and extended charge time).
Recharge stop 4: Vrede, Free State (Sasol Thanda Tau).
Arrival time: 05:00 pm. Distance travelled: 111 km. Travelling time: 01h05m. Available battery charge on arrival 21%. Available distance range on arrival: 76 km. Estimated range vs actual distance travelled: 16 km (energy saving).
Charging time: 01h05m. DC session ended with 62.88kWh recharged at a cost of R368.76.
Departure time: 06:05 pm. Available battery charge on departure 90%. Available distance range on departure 312 km.
I turned off the N3 at Heidelberg and took the R52 towards Nigel, the R51 to Springs, and finally the R555 to Delmas.
Arrival at destination: Delmas (Rietkol). Time: 08:35 pm. Distance travelled: 186 km. Available battery charge on arrival 42%. Available distance range on arrival 148 km. Travelling time: 02h30m. Estimated range vs actual distance travelled: 23 km (energy saving).
Total EV battery charge cost of 625 km return trip (Umkomaas to Johannesburg): R885.35.
Where are EV battery charging stations located along the route?
GridCars has a live map displaying over 360 EV charge stations in South Africa. The Jaguar I-PACEs dashboard GPS navigation system also has an option to select nearby charge stations along the route being travelled. However, the charge stations are not displayed in the order of your approach. You have to select a charge station from a display of nearby options, which can lead to confusion. For example, I selected a charge station 38 km from my position and only realised that the station lay in the opposite direction when instructed to take the next off-ramp and head back up the N3.
There are a couple of things to consider when selecting an EV charge station. While the majority of charging stations on the GridCars public network are 60kW fast chargers, some are 22kW chargers meaning that you’ll wait longer to charge the cars’ battery. A few are 80kW chargers, so wherever possible select the higher charge limit stations. Some EV charge stations require that you connect your own DC fast charge cable.
Will the return journey (Durban to Johannesburg) consume more power?
Considering the elevation climb of 1,755 meters, yes, an all-electric car will consume more battery power when driving from Durban to Johannesburg. Specifically along the steeper road incline sections of the N3 like the approach to Hillcrest, Hilton and Van Reenen’s Pass. The road section between Cato Ridge and Pietermaritzburg is still under maintenance construction with lane closures causing bumper-to-bumper traffic congestion, which is exacerbated by impatient freight truck drivers.
How does the cost of driving a battery electric vehicle (BEV) compare to an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle?
A BEV costs 58%* less to drive long distance than an ICE vehicle (when comparing energy [battery recharging] to fuel [petrol] consumption costs).
*My 1,722 km road trip cost R1,665.90 for battery charging compared to R4,019.15 for petrol fuel (assuming fuel consumption at 10L/100km at the current inland fuel rate of R23.34 per litre of 95 octane petrol).
In terms of CO2 emissions, a 1,711 km trip in an ICE vehicle would generate 0.701 t of CO2 at an offset cost of R433 ($23). According to MyClimate, 0.600 t is the maximum amount of CO2 that can be generated in the UK by a single person in a year in order to stop climate change.
Regardless of whether you use a BEV or ICE vehicle to self-drive between Johannesburg and Durban along the N3, toll fees will add R278.50 to the cost of your journey (R557 on a return trip). It’s better to have cash on hand to pay the tolls but ask for cash receipts (my VISA debit card wouldn’t work at the De Hoek Plaza, so I had to make a u-turn and drive to Heidelberg to draw cash at an ATM).
The N3 Toll Route starts at the Heidelberg South interchange in Gauteng and ends at the Cedara interchange in KwaZulu-Natal. The toll plazas and fees are:
De Hoek Plaza (near Heidelberg, Gauteng)— R60.00.
Wilge Plaza (near Villiers, Free State) — R83.00.
Tugela Plaza (near Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal) — R88.00.
Mooi Plaza (near Mooi River, KwaZulu-Natal) — R62.00.
Mariannhill Plaza (near Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal) — R14.50.
Driving an all-electric vehicle long distance in South Africa is certainly doable, cost efficient, and eco-friendly, as long as you’re not in a rush to get to your destination. But then, that’s what #slowtravel is all about, right? Road-tripping the Jaguar I-PACE has opened my eyes to the future of e-Mobility (the concept of using electric powertrain technologies, in-vehicle information, communication technologies, and connected infrastructures).
There are a couple of things I don’t get about BEVs in general though. Like, how come they’re not self-charging? Other than regenerative braking, I mean. Surely wind turbine technology could be utilised to charge the battery by converting wind energy into electricity while the car is being driven? Or what about coating the car with solar photovoltaic cells to convert sunlight into battery charging energy?
I guess that Tata Motors (the current owner of Jaguar Land Rover Limited since 2013), along with other EV manufacturers, will come up with completely self-charging all-electric vehicles at some point in the future.