A Joule of South Africa: The Story of a Lost EV

A South African company had a promising EV in 2008 called the Joule, but a lack of faith was its downfall.
Written by Alex Reale
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
Jul 4, 2022
The
EV
arms race mostly involves countries who already have robust car-building infrastructures in place: the United States, China, Germany, and
Sweden
are all major contenders. One country that isn’t on this list, however, did once have a case for a very cool contribution to the EV landscape. 
This is the story of the South African-born Joule, an electric vehicle that didn’t quite make it to market.

The Joule was a promising idea

At the 2008 Paris Motor Show, a new electric car was making a splash.
Wired
called it the “darling” of the expo, citing its 0 to 60 capabilities (4.8 seconds), its range of 250 miles, and its ability to seat six. 
Its look and feel was praised as well—former Jaguar designer Keith Helfet lent his talents to this project, and you can see the Jag influence in the Joule’s wide-set eyes and smooth lines.
Two drivetrain options, a few different battery packs, and regenerative braking also made the Joule something to talk about at the show, and Motor Show attendees left wondering when they’d be able to buy their very own. But they were, alas, to be disappointed.  

The Joule was ahead of its time

The death of the Joule was written in the checks. After 300 million rand had been invested, the South African government and other investors in Joule’s parent company, Optimal Energy, apparently got spooked by knowing what they didn’t know about the burgeoning EV market. Optimal Energy shut down in 2012, and the Joule never got to see the open road.
News24
reports that the CTO of Optimal Energy wrote in the Joule autopsy that the “project died in the innovation chasm,” which sounds a lot like the critics didn’t believe in Tinker Bell enough.
Ironically, the range of the Joule was on par with other EVs of the time, and was even better than its fellow newborn, the Nissan Leaf. So if the EV had been allowed to live, perhaps it would have been quite the South African success story.

Any Joules on the horizon?

The rise and fall of the Joule took place over a decade ago, and perhaps the time is right for South Africa to have another try at building its own electric vehicle. 
Some
commentators
argue that there are infrastructure changes and regulations that can be made to make the country a more hospitable place for charging and driving EVs, so there is clearly a path forward. And the tale of the Joule will be made into a beautiful, tragic opera: the promising up-and-comer, doomed to be ahead of its time.
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CSE
Dairyland
DirectAuto
Elephant Auto Insurance
Kemper
Libertymutual
Gainsco
Mapfre
Mercury Auto
Metromile
Nationwide
Plymouth Rock
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State Auto
Safeco
Travelers
Metlife
Bristol West

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