Heels & Horsepower Magazine


Are Green cars safer than ‘normal’ cars?

Songo Didiza, a true ‘greenie’, entrepreneur and green economy expert is the founder of Green Building Design Group. She is a contributor for Driving In Heels, focusing on green mobility in the motoring sector

This past December holiday I was overjoyed to join my sisters on our annual Ubuntu road trip to the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape. The trip was particularly interesting because some of our party were on Honda sponsored motorcycles whilst others we cocooned in the comfort of the spacious 7 seater Isuzu mu-X. We travelled a distance of over 2000kms of tarmac and rough wild coast terrain which was evenly matched by both the adventure motorcycles and the dynamically powered SUV.

The question that plagued me was ‘would I be able to drive my EV to a destination such as Coffee Bay and back without worrying about my safety?’

– Songo didiza, founder – green building design group

Our drive was pleasantly uneventful, that is until we turned off the highway and headed towards Coffee Bay when driver and riders had to employ some pretty nimble skills in order to manoeuvre between gigantic sized potholes and stray animals. It got me wondering if there were any electric vehicles (EV) on the market that would be up for this challenge? 

As an EV pundit, I must say I had to scratch my head for this one. (In my previous article I had touched on the safety of EVs. This was addressed from a performance perspective. It was clear as the EV technology improves that these cars can also be held to the same performance standards as convention internal combustion engines). The question that plagued me was ‘would I be able to drive my EV to a destination such as Coffee Bay and back without worrying about my safety?’

Before I delve into the safety and durability of EVs we need to understand the different types that are out there on the market. 

There are three main types of electric vehicles (EVs), classed by the degree that electricity is used as their energy source. BEVs, or battery electric vehicles, PHEVs of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and HEVs, or hybrid electric vehicles.  

Battery Electric Vehicles, also called BEVs (and more frequently called EVs), are fully electric vehicles with rechargeable batteries and no petrol/diesel engines. Battery electric vehicles store electricity on board with high capacity battery packs. Two of these are currently available in South Africa in the form of the BMWi3, Jaguar I-PACE and the Nissan LEAF. Two of these are suitable for city driving. They are not recommended for long distance drives at the moment ( > 1000 kms).  

Hybrid Electric Vehicles or HEVs, are hybrid vehicles powered by both petrol/diesel and electricity. The electric energy is generated by the car’s own braking system to recharge the battery. This is called ‘regenerative braking’ which is a process where the electric motor helps to slow the vehicle and uses some of the energy normally converted to heat by the brakes. Regular HEVs most commonly use an internal combustion engine (ICE) and electric batteries to power electric motors. Many HEVs reduce idle emissions by shutting down the ICE at idle and restarting it when needed. An HEV gets all its energy from petrol, however, the HEV’s engine is smaller and maybe run at various speeds, providing more efficiency. The Toyota Prius is one of the most commonly available HEVs within the global car market. All Prius’ sold in South Africa are HEVs. 

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles or PHEVs can recharge the battery through both regenerative braking and ‘plugging in’ to an external source of electrical power. PHEVs have batteries that can be recharged by connecting a plug to an electric power source. It shares the characteristics of both conventional hybrid electric vehicles and battery electric vehicles, having an internal combustion engine and batteries for power. 

While ‘standard’ hybrids can (at low speed) go about 1-3 kms before the gasoline engine turns on, PHEV models can go anywhere from 16-64 kms before their petrol/diesel engines provide assistance. Hybrid cars are all the rage these days with every automobile manufacturer moving into the forte to make its mark. Whether you are driving a cost-effective Toyota Prius or a costly BMW i8 these provide the owner with benefits like better fuel efficiency and lower environmental emissions. 

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