Tuesday, 04 June 2013 11:58

Re-inventing mobility: leading innovation in the transport industry

25 DEGREES in Africa looks at re-inventing mobility by creating opportunities that aim at building more inclusive cities and more resilient communities.

Urban transportation is constantly expanding in terms of new, innovative technologies and using alternative sources of power in a world where the reality of scarce resources and climate change has become the biggest threat in many industries.

The increasing demand for urban transportation in a developing world only adds to this and has highlighted the need for a significant transportation infrastructure overhaul.

Recently, innovative business models have been emerging in many parts of the developing world. Initiatives led by establishments such as GridCars, ZipCar, Hopstop, Uber and the City of Johannesburg municipality, to name a few, have placed emphasis on significantly reducing consumption and reconfiguring the relationship between modes, users and providers of public transportation.

These new approaches improve urban transportation by finding effective solutions that make transport systems more efficient, dependable and sustainable.

Off the grid

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

In 2009 Carel Snyman and Winstone Jordaan joined forces to create GridCars, a company focused on the research and development of new technologies, alternative energy and innovation opportunities in the transport sector.

One of Carel’s first successful conversions was in the mid-1990s. As part of an Eskom EV programme from 1992 to 2002, Carel led his team in the conversion of  an Opel Corsa light delivery truck into a fully electric vehicle, using a system supplied by AC Propulsion. The vehicle managed to reach a speed of 100km/h in eight seconds using 100kW power, which proved that the myth of electric vehicles being slow was just that – a myth.

The first project Winstone and Carel started on was the Urban Commuter – a shared car with two seats that was successfully connected to public transport, the grid, and to the community of commuters.

According to Carel Snyman, the “connected” car:

•    Plugs into the grid.
•    Refuels while plugged in. It can also make electricity available to Eskom when experiencing peak demand (through smart grid).
•    Uses existing infrastructure.
•    Adds to energy diversity.
•    Presents off-peak load, which allows batteries to recharge without interfering with current the peak demand issues.


GridCars’ production of electric vehicles (EVs) focuses on the development of new advanced mobility systems (vehicles, infrastructure and specific tracking and communicating software) optimised for niche markets. To demonstrate the technology the company converts existing cars to electric propulsion, which in turn allows for lower initial investment costs, cars that are quick to enter into the market and cars that are responsive to new technologies.
GridCars has realised that the world is at a tipping point and is actively working on solutions that are needed to overcome the challenges faced by the transport industry.

Implementing innovation

Apart from the fact that significant progress is made on the research and development front, some initiatives have been tried and tested with amazing results. Whether they have enjoyed long-running success or are relatively new concepts meant for implementation in the near future, here are the most notable, interesting developments on the transport front:

Rea Vaya

Rea Vaya, which means “we are going”, offers fast, safe and affordable public transport on a network of bus routes across Johannesburg.

Implemented by the City of Johannesburg municipality in 2010, the project aims at providing better public transport, reducing congestion on public roads, improving the environment and creating jobs.

Buses run along dedicated routes to ensure speed of service, while the enclosed stations are designed to be spacious and welcoming.

A crucial element of the Rea Vaya project is the reduction of Joburg’s public transport carbon footprint – the fleet is the most modern available, with sophisticated engineering to ensure carbon emissions are as low as possible.

Solar electric bus

The Tindo solar battery-charged bus is an experimental battery electric vehicle that operates in Adelaide, Australia. It uses 100% solar power, is equipped with a regenerative braking system and air-conditioning, and can carry up to 40 people. The bus receives electric power from a photovoltaic (PV) system at Adelaide’s central bus station. Hailed as the world’s first bus service powered exclusively by solar power, the bus service connects Adelaide City and North Adelaide as part of Adelaide City’s sustainable transport agenda. The Tindo is part of the Adelaide Connector bus service, which is offered as free public transport.

GridCars’ lightweight electric vehicle

One of Gridcars’ recent innovations is the lightweight electric tri cycle developed for community services. By creating an electric-powered, bicycle-like vehicle with an interchangeable carrier at the back (“business pod”), the vehicle is small, versatile and economic in terms of operating and construction costs.

The zero-emissions eSpanBoni is powered by electricity stored in batteries located in a central container-based station and, during off-peak hours, is even able to power homes and businesses in rural communities with the unused energy. The intent is to recharge these batteries by using solar charge stations. This would serve as a place where people can rent the eSpanBonis from to deliver their service to the community. These services can include waste removal, maintenance work, distribution of food and other products, transporting people short distances – to school and back, to taxi ranks and back, etc.
Electric game-viewing vehicle

During Carel’s time with Eskom, Nissan SA was approached and agreed to develop and build an electric game-viewing vehicle in a joint project. A standard Nissan Cabstar 4-ton truck was specially prepared for game viewing with high-rise seats to accommodate 20 people. Eskom installed an AC Propulsion 150kW electric drive and controller system and 56 Optima yellow-top batteries to power the vehicle. Eskom also did all the fine-tuning and final settings on the control system.  

The vehicle has a top speed of 80km/h and an energy consumption rate of 36kWh per 100km at an average speed of about 20km/h (about 40kWh off the grid to recharge the batteries). This allows the vehicle a maximum driving range of 70km or a maximum operating time of three hours.

Awarding innovation

PFK Electronics’ Autowatch 740 WAB breathalyser immobiliser – a product designed, developed and manufactured in South Africa for local and global markets – was awarded top honours for innovation at Automechanika Johannesburg’s Innovation Awards 2013.

Hunter’s HawkEye Elite Wheel Alignment System, which was developed in the United States, won a silver certificate, while two other locally manufactured products tied for bronze award status – Supreme Spring’s Cobra Coil-Over Suspension Kit and Powertech’s state-of-the-art Willard IQ battery.

The products were assessed by a jury comprising of Dr Richard Beän of UNIDO, Christopher Crookes of Extra Dimensions, John Ellmore of the RMI, David Furlonger of Financial Mail, Dr Norman Lamprecht of NAAMSA, Jeff Osborne of the RMI and Roger Pitot of NAACAM.

Tested for production over a period of 18 months and found to be accurate and secure, complying with international standards, the 740 WAB was described by jury members as a world leader: innovative, accurate, reliable and user-friendly.

Missouri-based Hunter’s HawkEye Elite Wheel Alignment System – one of three of the brand’s products entered in the competition by importer Leaderquip – was deemed to represent an excellent combination of technology and functionality designed to improve overall service efficiency in the alignment workshop environment. Quick-fit adaptors, three-dimensional targets, high-resolution cameras and powerful alignment software are among the system’s facets.

This innovative, emerging New Mobility sector continuously sees companies actively innovate solutions that aim (and succeed) to build more inclusive cities and more resilient communities.

*For more information on innovative products and technologies in the luxury car market, read elsewhere in the luxury car market and transport industry section.

Full thanks and acknowledgement are given to GridCars, Automechanika JHB and Rea Vaya for the information given to write this article.



GIL Africa 2017