Tesla’s vehicles are not yet available for people to buy in South Africa. However, Rubicon, the largest supplier of solar systems and components to the commercial & industrial and residential sectors in South Africa, had the honour of bringing in the first ever Tesla vehicle to South Africa. Rubicon’s Model X is the Performance version. Rubicon is using the Model X to raise awareness about electric vehicles in South Africa. The Model X is also a star attraction whenever Rubicon has product road shows and exhibitions in shopping malls. Rubicon is also the official distributor of the Tesla Powerwall in South Africa.
Rubicon is also rolling out an electric vehicle charging network in collaboration with several partners, such as Audi South Africa. In order to get some real insights on the ground and learn a lot about the customer experience on long road trips and at charging stations, Rubicon’s Project Manager for E-Mobility, Hilton Musk, and his colleague Nick Bailey took Rubicon’s Model X on a long drive from Cape Town to Johannesburg in South Africa, a distance of about 1,400 km. Hilton is actually Elon Musk’s second cousin. Pretty cool that he got to drive the only Tesla Model X in South Africa from Cape to Johannesburg.
I got a chance to chat with Hilton Musk (HM) after the trip and here are some highlights from the experience:
RJK: Please tell us where you started your road trip and where was the finish point?
HM: We started our journey in Century City, Cape Town, and ended at Mall of Africa, Johannesburg.
RJK: How many stops to charge did you make and where did you stop to charge?
HM: We stopped 7 times to charge, mostly brought about by the fact the rear wheel alignment on the Tesla was out after a tyre change, so we didn’t have cruise control or any of the driver aids, which cost us around 30% range per charge initially. This was also exacerbated by the fact we either could only charge AC at some stations or we got caught by loadshedding* or we found that another driver that scheduled a charge at the same time we arrived at a charging station.
For the first leg, we drove at between 90–100 km/h due to the wheel alignment issue we had. We had to manage our speed to ensure we had enough range left to reach the next charging station. After we got that sorted out, we managed a much better average of 120 km/h (speed limit in South Africa) for the rest of the journey.
*Note on loadshedding: South Africa is in the midst of its worst ever period of electricity rationing, known as loadshedding, due to demand exceeding available supply. This is mostly due to frequent breakdowns at the old coal power stations.
We charged at the following locations:
- Worcester (day 1) — charged at 16kW AC, as the DC wasn’t working with the Tesla (apparently something to do with the charging station components and voltage requirements of the Tesla). We were here for about 3 hours.
- Laingsburg (day 1) — charged at 40kW DC. We were there for about 2 hours, but charged for about 1 hour of that as we allowed a crew with electric motorbikes from Electronia to charge first.
- Beaufort West (day 1) — charged at about 50kW DC. We arrived at night with 7km of range left. It was a close call and we definitely felt range anxiety pulling into Beaufort West, so we charged to full while we had some dinner at the 4 Sheep Restaurant.
- Richmond (day 2) — we charged at 16kW AC. This was the same unit as Worcester, so we experienced the same troubles with DC charging there. We spent roughly 3 hours here as well.
- Colesberg (day 2) — we arrived at the charging station at the Caltex just outside Colesberg, and were able to charge at 75kW. We were unfortunately got caught by loadshedding 15 min into the charge, so we moved on to Gariep Dam and waited it out.
- Gariep Dam (day 2) — after waiting 1.5 hours for loadshedding to end, we were able to charge at roughly 50kW DC. We initially experienced some problems with the RFID reader, but a quick call to GridCars sorted us out as they remotely activated the charge session. We charged for about an hour here.
- Windmill Casino, Bloemfontein (day 2) — we arrived here at night and topped up a bit here at roughly 40kW DC. We charged for about 30 min before heading to our accommodation.
- Windmill Casino, Bloemfontein (day 3) — we charged at 40kW DC again to 80% whilst we had breakfast. We charged for about an hour.
- Ventersburg (day 3) — we charged here at roughly 50kW DC for about an hour. We had to wait 10 min before charging DC as there was another EV driver with a Porsche Taycan charging when we arrived.
- Mall of Africa (day 3) — we charged here at about 150kW DC. It took roughly 45 min to full.
RJK: What did you do during the time the vehicle was charging?
HM: At Worcester we did some shopping and chatted to the public about the Tesla and other EV drivers (especially the crew from Electronia with the electric bike) during this time.
At Laingsburg — We chatted to the crew from Electronia and the public about the Tesla.
At Beaufort West — We had dinner at 4 Sheep Restaurant with our newfound friends from Electronia. They have the best lamb shank in the country.
At Richmond — 3 hours, again chatted to our friends from Electronia for a bit, fielded questions from the public about the Tesla, and then watched some Netflix on the Tesla infotainment system.
At Colesberg — 15 min, we just did some photography before loadshedding hit.
At Gariep Dam — We had a swim in the dam and watched some YouTube through the Tesla’s infotainment system.
At Windmill Casino — The first night, 30 min, we grabbed a drink at the casino. The next morning, 1 hour, and we grabbed breakfast at Spur.
At Ventersburg — 1 hour, we chatted to the EV driver with the Porsche for a while and then chatted to the public about the Tesla.
Then at the Mall of Africa — 45 min, got a quick bite to eat and bathroom break before heading home.
RJK: Did you meet any other EVs at charging stations on the highway and also did you see any other EV on the highway randomly?
HM: We met up with the Electonia crew at several of the stops up to Richmond. We also bumped into Jaco from GridCars at Worcester and then the Porsche Taycan driver at Ventersburg. We didn’t see any more EVs or EV drivers than that. Most of those returning from the Formula E were way ahead of us. I must say though, it was awesome meeting the people we did along the way and chatting to them about the industry and future plans. We made some good friends along the way.
RJK: How was the charging experience in general? Chargers were all up? No issues with charging stations?
It was a mixed experience. Some of the charging stations didn’t allow us to charge DC, which cost us around 3 hours of our trip time at these stations. The rest of the charging stations worked well, except when loadshedding hit us at Colesberg (which was expected). The max kW we got was at Mall of Africa, which was 150kW. At the ones we could only charge AC, we maxed out at 16kW (limited by the car itself). The rest were between 30–50kW max.
RJK: How long was your trip in total?
HM: We left Cape Town at 9h00 on 26 Feb and arrived in Joburg at 16h00 on 28 Feb, so the total trip took us 55 hours. Of this we drove for roughly 30 hours. The rest of the time was when we slept over at Beaufort West and Bloem.
RJK: Any other information on your trip and experience you would like to share?
HM: This was the first long distance trip Nick and I had done in the Tesla, and despite all the challenges we experienced, these challenges actually allowed us to learn a lot about the customer experience on such trips and at charging stations. The knowledge we gained from this experience and the people we met along the way were the highlights of the trip for us and are invaluable to how we approach the customer experience at our own charging stations across the country.
RJK takeaway: We are starting to see more of these long road trips in South Africa being documented, which is really cool. Just last week Justus Visagie drove the Mercedes-Benz EQS 450+ from Cape Town to Johannesburg in a new record time of just over 19 hours. Justus returned to Cape Town from Johannesburg in a BMW i4 M50 in another record time of just over 19 hours. Hilton and Nick were on a different mission, they wanted to get insights into the customer experience around EV charging in South Africa. This helps raise awareness and share important insight into the whole EV driver experience in South Africa. Interesting to note that whilst Justus found all the chargers free whenever he stopped to charge, Nick and Hilton bumped into a few EVs at some of the stops. Exciting times for South Africa’s EV sector.
Images courtesy of Rubicon