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25/06/2018 10:23 SAST | Updated 03/07/2018 12:48 SAST

Will The Higher Fuel Price Lead To Increased Sales Of Hybrid and Electric Cars In SA?

An expert weighs in.

boonchai wedmakawand via Getty Images

The fuel price is at its highest level ever in South Africa and petrol is due to increase again on Wednesday, with petrol going up by another 26 cents to more than R16 per litre.

Consumers are having to cut back and drive smarter to save fuel, and some believe this is an opportune time to explore hybrid and electric cars in SA.

But it seems South Africans haven't really taken to these types of vehicles, mainly because of cost and maintenance, according to one car expert.

"Since starting our third-party auction service, we've had limited access to hybrid vehicles for obvious reasons, as they are rare," said Michael Zahariev, chief executive and founder of HiCarByeCar.com, a third-party car auction service for dealers.

"While we've seen our fair share of VW Polos, when we talk to dealers, they tell us that while consumers are genuinely interested in fuel economy when purchasing pre-owned cars, the costs of hybrid and electric vehicles put them out of reach of the average buyer."

If you're looking to purchase a new hybrid vehicle, the Toyota Prius retails at around R451,800 and boasts a fuel economy of 3.7l per 100km. According to Naamsa, Toyota SA has sold just one Prius in the first quarter of 2018.

Those thinking about going electric will have to spend R479,100 to buy the Nissan Leaf and the home charging station for the car will set buyers back around R30,000. The average car buyer spends R300,000 on a new car, so this might be a barrier for South Africans in the market for entry-level cars.

The Chery QQ3 is the only new car you can get in South Africa for a R100,000, according to Drive It magazine's top cheapest cars in 2018.

Read: Not Sure Which Pre-Owned Car To Buy? Here Are Some Good Options

However, there's also the pre-owned car market, which is popular with buyers on a budget.

"Currently, the dealers that are using our service haven't enquired that much about hybrid or electric vehicles," said Zahariev. "While there are many factors that influence the popularity of the cars with potential buyers in the second-hand market, one is definitely the price of maintenance."

According to the 2017 Kinsey Report, it costs R28,300 to replace the battery in a Prius and a BMW i3 eDrive battery will set you back R339,616, which is more than half the price of the vehicle.

This may be the reason why some South Africans still view diesel as the most economical alternative, as it's considered reliable, fuel-efficient and robust. A survey conducted by the AA found that 37 percent of local motorists would still choose diesel over petrol, and 56 percent of respondents said they prefer diesel over petrol engines.

"Diesel vehicles are always popular with the dealers. It's a fact that the domestic car market will go with what they know. So if they're looking for an alternative to petrol, they'll most likely go with something they can bank on," said Zahariev.

But no one can predict the future. Only time will tell if electric and hybrid cars have a future in South Africa.