Seagull is the R200k EV South Africa needs

Seagull is an odd product name. But it might become oft quoted in the car market, quite soon.

Tesla is the world’s most esteemed electric vehicle brand, but ignore the Chinese at your peril.

With unrivalled legacy battery production capacity, Chinese car brands are rapidly developing their electric vehicle models.

Unlike the strategy being followed by legacy car companies, with expensive electric vehicles to absorb costs, the Chinese are making affordable alternatives.

Very affordable.

One of China’s largest car companies is BYD. It might be unfamiliar to South Africans, but the numbers should give context. Last year BYD sold more electric vehicles than Tesla. A total of 1.8m. That scale and China’s enormous battery industry allow BYD to do what other car companies can’t: affordable electric vehicles.

An ideal EV for urbanites

Revealed at the Shanghai auto show, BYD’s Seagull might have an odd name, but there’s nothing strange about its product specification. Powered by a modest 55kW electric motor, the Seagull isn’t a potent highway cruiser, but it should offer entirely usable performance as a city car.

Most A- and B-segment petrol hatchbacks, with engines 1- to 1.4-litres in capacity, make power in a 50- to 60kW spectrum. So, BYD’s compact battery car isn’t underpowered by comparison.

Range? Seagull customers will have the option of two battery packs. The 30kWh version is rated to provide 305km of range, with a more energy-dense 38kWh battery, good for 405km. Those are very usable driving range numbers.

Because the Seagull is a compact hatchback design, without an outrageously powerful electric motor, it doesn’t require big batteries. And the advantage of using relatively small battery packs? Rapid recharging times. You can recharge a BYD Seagull from 20% to full capacity in half an hour.

It’s about the size of a VW Polo and has a 12.8-inch infotainment screen. And the value offering is astounding. In a market where electric cars are priced way beyond the median car purchasing threshold, BYD is committed to bringing Seagull to market at the equivalent of R200 000.

Seagull for SA?

Chinese car brands have achieved significant success in South Africa over the last few years. GWM’s bakkies and SUVs sell in substantial volumes, and its Haval sub-brand has been hugely successful in the crossover market.

BYD does not have a broad product presence in South Africa, yet, but has indicated an interest in bringing electric vehicles into the market. Soon.

Whether BYD’s battery product strategy for South Africa is Seagull, or one of its other vehicles, remains to be seen. There has been no confirmation. We do know that Chinese car companies have been desperately efficient with product rollout once strategic directives are issued.

If BYD does introduce Seagull at an attractive price, it could revolutionise electric vehicle adoption in South Africa. Although the issue of a growing local electric vehicle fleet remains problematic, in the context of Eskom’s generating crisis.

Lance Branquinho


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