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The Family Joules

by Brendon Bosworth / 12.04.2009

Electric vehicles are nothing new. They actually pre-date the petrol and diesel cars that have been allowing oil sheiks and their concubines to glut themselves on veal and Verve Clicquot for the last century. But modern variants haven’t exactly had the word “cool” stamped all over them. Take the REVA, an Indian-made electro mobile, for example. With just enough room for two adults and two kids, it’s a dinky affair that’s classified as a “heavy quadricycle” in Europe. On paper, it’s not even a real car! A top speed of 80km/hr and a maximum range of 80km off one battery charge might suit you fine if you’re the greenest of city dwellers doing short runs to fetch organic aubergines from your local health store. But let’s get real here.

If the Joule is all it’s cracked up to be, it could well become one of the coolest kids on the electric car block. Optimal Energy, the Capetonian company responsible for the battery-operated cabbie, claims the silent six-seater will have a range of 400kms and will post a respectable top speed of 130km/hr. Which is still enough to get you a speeding fine, but won’t help you outrun the hijackers, or the cops. The hep exterior should ensure drivers don’t get laughed out of the car park. But the true allure lies in being able to stare into the face of a 4×4 driver at the robots, whilst entombed in your Zen-like bubble of quiet, and shake your head with utter disdain – “How could you kill the  planet like that, bru?”

There are no noxious green house gasses chunneling out of the exhaust pipe, but the Joule is not entirely pollution free. To get the full 400kms worth, it’s required that each of the two lithium-ion batteries is plugged into a wall socket to charge for seven hours. This is going to chow a fair bit of electricity, which ultimately results in more coal burning at Eskom HQ, or a fair bit of nuclear fission with no real solution to where we dump all that radioactive waste. But, according to Optimal Energy, electric vehicles are estimated to be about five times more energy efficient than regular cars, which means that regardless of the energy source they are only responsible for a fifth of the pollution. One could always turn off the idiot box and cutback on the Desperate Housewives intake to offset the electricity usage. Or install that solar panel you’ve been talking about for aeons.

The price has not yet been fixed, but based on current ‘08/’09 terms a Joule will retail in the region of R200 000 large. Let’s hope Eskom keeps their side of the bargain. Being late for work ‘cos you couldn’t charge your car during a black-out might not fly with the big chief.

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