All torque and no action

David Bullard writes on why he is giving the electric vehicle revolution, and racing, a pass (for now)


You really have to admire the South African dry sense of humour. Or maybe you have to pity the complete absence of a sense of irony…. I’m not sure which.

In a country that has experienced 15 years of ever worsening, government sponsored power cuts and which can barely provide enough electricity to keep the economy running it does seem bizarre that on February 25th Cape Town will be hosting something called the Formula E.Prix; which is pretty similar to a normal Formula 1 race except that it’s much quieter because all the cars are powered by rechargeable electric batteries.

That’s akin to holding a whisky tasting for members of alcoholics anonymous or hosting a chocolate gateaux festival for Weight Watchers.

Much of Greenpoint and the Waterfront will be out of bounds on the day as the 2.94km 12 turn track is making use of some of our impeccably maintained roads. This is obviously why the event couldn’t be held in the Caliphate of Johannesburg although I’m told (off the record obviously) that they are thinking of holding a similar event for rugged, high ground clearance vehicles on their pot-holed city streets.

The Cape Town race is obviously well planned with entry level tickets at a very reasonable R350 going up to around R6 000 a head if you want to take a minimum of a 100 clients or close friends for the fully catered, air conditioned VIP experience with the best view of the track.___STEADY_PAYWALL___

It should be a fun day if electric cars are your thing but personally I think the whole e-racing business is about as interesting as watching a game of bowls at a retirement village. It’s the zero-alcohol beer of the motor racing world.

For example, part of the thrill of Formula 1 is what can go horribly wrong during a pit stop. Presumably if you’re driving on a battery that is designed to keep going for the duration of the race then there won’t be a need for any pit stops.

Looking at the map of the track online there don’t seem to be any pits marked anyway. Which is a shame in a way because the race would be far more thrilling if one of the driver’s had to report a dangerously low battery level and needed to pull in for a thrilling 20 minute fast charge in the pit lane. That’s always assuming load-shedding wasn’t taking place at the time.

Then there’s the noise. I’ve only been to a couple of GP’s as a VIP guest which meant I spent rather more time in the air-conditioned suite of my hosts watching the whole thing on a massive TV screen and being brought cold beers by very attractive young hostesses.

I did venture out during the Melbourne GP (also held on the city’s roads) and could quite understand why the punters in the regular stands would get worked up as cars roared past them at breakneck speed.

Add to that the noise of the revving engines at the starting grid which presages something of a gladiatorial challenge for the next couple of hours. I have no idea what the starting grid at an e-Prix event might be like but since electric cars are all torque and no action I imagine it must be a bit like a fleet of supercharged milk floats setting off for the morning delivery.

Anybody who has watched the excellent Netflix ‘Drive to Survive’ series will know that a high speed crash in something full of flammable liquid can turn very nasty indeed. So what happens with an e-car then? Do you get an electric shock from the exposed battery terminals?

Although most of us would be reluctant to admit it, some of the best moments of F1 are the near fatal crashes. After all, who wants to watch a load of cars whizzing around a track for a couple of hours in orderly fashion?

But maybe I’m just being a Luddite and e-Prix is the future just as ChatGPT is apparently the future of journalism and deep-fake technology the future of the movie industry. The folks behind the Cape Town e-Prix make the following statement on the website:

E-Movement is a rights-holding business that uses events to advocate for renewable energy and e-mobility solutions. We secure rights for an emerging class of events that utilise electric vehicles as its core to create live experiences & packaged content. We partner brands that are embracing the future of electric mobility and renewable energies to create tailored corporate brand activations across our properties.

By an odd coincidence I am in the market for a new car at the moment having decided that the 18-year-old Porsche is going to become quite an expensive mistress within the next few years. Maybe it is also time for me to ‘embrace the future of electric mobility’ and help save the planet for the younger generation.

The cheapest electric car would appear to be the Mini Hatch at R723 000 which is considerably more than I plan on spending on a car designed to travel no more than 1 000kms a month. I could pick up the now discontinued BMW i3 2015 model with around 50 000kms on the clock for around R580 000 but who knows if the battery isn’t about to give out?

BMW’s current cheapest model is the iX3M sport for a modest R1 290 000 but it has a maximum speed of 180km/h and a 0-100km acceleration of 6.68 seconds. So, what would be the point of trading in the old Porsche?

Other than those bargain offerings the sky is the limit with Audi’s e-tron range starting at R1 745 000 and rising to a dizzy R3 359 400 for the Quattro GT. Audi are clearly aiming their products at the thriving ‘tenderpreneur’ market. Possibly someone with Tourism Board connections?

Mind you, as far as price comparisons go, the Quattro looks cheap next to the price of a 50 square metre, one bedroom apartment in a retirement village that was being heavily punted by Cape Talk last week. The price for that was R4 100 000 which, on a straight comparison of square meterage (not including my well kept garden) must make my place worth around R25 mln which it certainly isn’t.

Apart from crazy prices the main problem with an electric car is that you won’t be able to go on any long trips. This being South Africa the charging points will either not be working, or there will be a long queue for the only one that is working or, more likely, they will have been vandalised.

In which case you will have to carry a long extension cord and ask a kind farmer in the Karoo if you can recharge your very expensive car from his generator while you spend the night in the barn.

So I’ve decided to stay with the dreaded internal combustion engine for now on the sound assumption that normal electricity supply will not be a reality in my lifetime. But even the alternative is scary.

An entry level BMW 1 series will cost you R652 000 and you’re not even driving a Beemer that anybody takes seriously at that price. A Golf Gti in its latest incarnation, (which was my first boy racer hot hatch back in 1981) now costs R733 000 even though it still has a 2 litre engine. An utter waste of money at my age so I’m fishing in the R250 000-R320 000 pond at the moment and I’ll tell you what I find in the next few weeks.


Apropos cars, there has been recent research from a team of (no doubt) highly remunerated scientists from the Department of Experimental Psychology at University College, London that has established a link between penis size and the desire to own a sports car.

The boffins surveyed 200 men between the ages of 18 and 74 and established a “casual psychological link between fast cars and small penises for the first time”. Quite how this will go down with Sir Lewis Hamilton remains to be seen.

As a former driver of a Morris Minor convertible with a 1 000cc Nuffield engine I am unaware of any university study that has come up with findings that drivers of woefully underpowered cars are hung like horses which seems a bit of a scientific cop-out.

However, as I have earlier confessed to being a Porsche driver I can only repeat the sage words of a female friend who said “well hung men are two a penny on any construction site. Guys who can afford to drive a Porsche not so much”. That made me feel so much better.