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Powering Ahead on Land and Water

Thanks to increasing pressure from the green movement, the automotive industry is realising innovative new mobility solutions on both water and land.

By Sudhir Matai

The so-called ‘greening’ of the automotive sector has been a prime concern for governments the world over for some time. Few, if any, industries have come under the same pressure as automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Sustainable motoring has become more than just a buzzword; it’s now a global imperative.

Traditional fossil fuel-based transportation is fast being supplemented by alternative sources of power, and electric vehicles (EVs) have emerged as the poster child of sustainable motoring. At this point, it is only small-scale performance brands such as Pagani, Caterham, Czinger and GMA that are not producing some form of electrified vehicle.

Of course, electrification is but one prong of the sustainable motoring attack. Another lesser-known option is that of the hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV). Porsche, meanwhile is investing in synthetic fuels that would allow combustion engines to be operated in an almost CO₂-neutral manner.

However, FCEVs and synthetic fuels are some ways from becoming viable on a large-scale, but local buyers have the option to step into the EV lifestyle immediately. Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo are the premium brands that currently offer full battery electric vehicles locally.

Rolling into the future

Rolls-Royce has officially confirmed that it will soon be all-electric. In a statement, brand CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös said, “All future Rolls-Royces, new ones, will be only electric while maintaining what Rolls-Royce stands for.”

The company’s very first all-electric model, the Spectre, made its public debut a few months ago. Torsten describes the Spectre as, “an ultra-luxury electric super coupé”. Luckily, I was one of a handful of scribes from around the world to drive a near-production-ready version in and around the Cape at the beginning of 2023.

I had a brief taste while the company put the all-new model through its final phases of pre-production testing, and I drove the Spectre, somewhat fittingly, in Franschhoek. The perfectly manicured vineyards, a craggy mountain backdrop and countless boutiques were the perfect environment to experience a car of this stature.

We wafted down the town’s main drag with hardly any noise from the car itself. In part, the imagined isolation comes from the 700kg sound damper (read: battery) that is sandwiched into the floor. The project engineers confessed that the team had to actually re-introduce some noise back into the cabin, as it was too quiet. The sensation of complete silence is, I am told, unnerving to humans.

The large, four-seater coupe feels serene. Inside you are ensconced in a cabin of luxurious hides, milled metalwork and dark open-pore wood. Just add in the soundtrack of lapping waves and we could just as well be on a Riva speedboat gently cruising on Lake Como.

The Spectre, I am happy to report, retains all the hallmarks of Rolls-Royces gone by. It is immensely powerful, has a high-degree of comfort and can waft along in near silence. In fact, I’d wager to say that electrification has actually improved the offering.

The Sleek Sedan

The Teutonic Trio (Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, Germany’s ‘big three’ car manufacturers) offers a full range of EVs, from small sports utility vehicles (SUVs) all the way to luxury limousines in the local context. From the EQA to the large EQS, Mercedes has an SUV for all requirements. The company also offers many luxury sedans powered purely by electricity, with the EQS at the very top of the range.

The sleek sedan features a futuristic cabin and a level of comfort we expect from a range-leading Mercedes. I slid behind the wheel of the EQS450+ (priced from R 2 719 010) at an event earlier this year. The model has a plush ride and immense shove from the 245kW/568N.m motor. Even more impressive is the advertised range of over 780km – by far the furthest of any EV available in the country today.

The Sustainable SUV

BMW also offers sporty sedans and SUVs under its ‘i’ sub-brand. At the top of its SUV range is the iX M60. The iX range (priced from R1 735 000) offers a completely unique appearance inside and out. The expansive cabin makes it ideal for a family, and it boasts a mix of sustainable materials and high-tech luxury. There’s even a bespoke soundtrack composed by the legendary music producer Hans Zimmer, should you wish to make your journeys feel even more ethereal.

The Sporty Alternatives

For keen drivers who prefer a sportier slant, the Audi RS E-tron GT and the Porsche Taycan could be the answer. These four-door coupes share underpinnings that were co-developed within the parent company, Volkswagen. I’ve yet to drive a Taycan, but a recent stint behind the wheel of an RS E-tron GT (R 3 527 400) left me impressed. The family friendly model ate up the straights at the Kyalami GP Circuit with disdain, thanks to its 440kW of power.

The future of sustainable motoring is bright, with various brands embracing innovation and committing to reducing their environmental footprint. From electric vehicles to hydrogen fuel cell technology and synthetic fuels, the automotive industry is evolving rapidly.

These advancements will provide consumers with cleaner, more efficient, and technologically advanced transportation options. As more brands join the sustainable revolution, we can look forward to a greener and more sustainable future on the roads.

Sustainability at Sea

A few months ago, a rather interesting catamaran sailed silently into Cape Town. The Energy Observer (EO) is a sea-faring vessel that runs autonomously on renewable energy. The repurposed racing catamaran has been fitted with 200m² of solar panels, two aero-optimised sails and a fuel stack.

The EO’s main energy source is hydrogen and it boasts the very same fuel-stack found in a Toyota Mirai. The Japanese automaker, a partner to the EO project, provided the team with a fuel stack to allow for complete energy autonomy. The vessel is able to produce hydrogen on board using seawater. The French-based catamaran has already sailed more than 50 000 nautical miles (almost 93 000km) since 2017, with Cape Town being its 80th port of call. But it isn’t just Toyota that has found new sea-faring partners.

Breaking Barriers

Once the performance arm of Volvo, Polestar is now a standalone EV brand owned by Chinese automotive giant Geely. Polestar has joined forces with Swedish maritime manufacturer Candela to provide the motivation for the latter firm’s C-8 speedboat. The boat uses the same 69kWh battery pack found in the Polestar 2. Volvo has a long history of producing marine engines, but this is the first time its EV sister has dipped its toes into the water.

The C-8 is a hydrofoil boat that almost soars through the air, with less than one per cent of the boat touching the water. The C-8 uses just 20 percent of the energy needed by other boats thanks to submerged hydrofoils – wing-like structures under the boat that boost performance and efficiency. It really is a high-tech piece of engineering encased in a sleek design fashioned from lightweight carbon-fibre.

To prove the efficiency of the system, Candela recently took to the water to shatter an existing endurance record. The team piloted a C-8 778km in just 24 hours… The previous record was 146km. The boat travelled continuously on the waterways around Stockholm, with only brief stops for charging.

Candela says the total cost for electricity was approximately $120. A traditional boat would require at least $1 400 worth of fuel to complete the same long-distance journey. The C-8 can travel over 100 km on a single charge.

“This feat shows that fast, electric waterborne transport over long distances is viable today, not a distant future,” said Candela CEO and founder Gustav Hasselskog, who piloted the boat during the record run.

Sudhir Matai

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