It’s just a matter of time until fuel-guzzling motor cars are a thing of the past. Everlectric is hastening the arrival of that day with the provision of electric vehicles as a service
Ordered anything online from Woolies lately? If you live in Gauteng, chances are your purchase was delivered by an electric vehicle supplied and powered by Everlectric. That’s because Woolworths is one of the first companies to adopt a model that Everlectric’s dynamic team – CEO, Ndia Magadagela CA(SA) and Co-Founders Paul Plummer CA(SA) and Wesley van der Walt – maintain is the blueprint of the future, stocking its fleet with electric vehicles.
A long road
In spite of all the evidence pointing to the superiority of electric vehicles, Ndia admits that it hasn’t been easy to reach a point where the cars are looked upon as a viable fleet option.
The trio has been working hard behind the scenes of Everlectric since 2019, having first met while completing their articles at Deloitte. From there, each travelled a different journey – although the qualities which first drew them together are very much in evidence. ‘I told Ndia that we would have our own company when we first met,’ Paul remembers. Although the two already knew each other slightly from their days as students at the University of Pretoria, Ndia says working at Deloitte gave them the chance to grow their friendship into a business partnership.
Ndia says that their compatibility was clear from the first time they audited a challenging client together: ‘You see a lot of a person’s character during such times, and even then, Paul’s work ethic and out-the-box mode of thinking was apparent.’ He, meanwhile, admires the insight and depth of understanding she brings to the business. As for Wesley, a friendship which Paul says ‘was forged in the fires of Las Vegas’ has thrived on respect for entrepreneurial know-how and resilience.
The team acknowledges that, while their strengths are complementary, their experience could not be more different. Ndia, drawn to the accounting profession after early exposure to business through her father’s enterprises in Venda, cemented her love of dealmaking at the Industrial Development Corporation, where she worked in industries ranging from chemicals to infrastructure and agro-processing. She had finally settled at Momentum before joining Paul and Wesley in Blackslope, the forerunner of Everlectric – but more about that later.
Ndia’s background in funding and dealmaking proved invaluable when it came time to finance Everlectric. As a startup, the team lend their strengths to all areas of the business, but investment remains one of Ndia’s core tasks. ‘I think it’s difficult in South Africa for any startup to raise funds – this isn’t Silicon Valley, after all. However, we managed to secure our first round of funding two years ago, and that enable us to do proof of concept,’ she says.
Has the industry been difficult for her, as a woman? ‘This is something I wish we weren’t discussing in 2023, but the reality is that there aren’t many females in the logistics industry. This is something we’re specifically aiming to address, seeking out women to take on roles in charger and vehicle maintenance and electrical engineering roles,’ she says.
Paul, meanwhile, stayed on at Deloitte, developing an interest in innovation, inorganic business growth strategies and future-focused technologies when he moved into Deloitte Consulting. His specialty here was helping clients build new businesses; a skill which would prove useful in the early days of Everlectric.
Like Wesley, Paul had an early interest in entrepreneurship; in his childhood establishing ‘Rainbow Shop’, which sold the neighbourhood kids’ toys and clothing on commission. His gift for persuasion is very much in evidence as the force behind Everlectric’s sales, whereas it’s Wesley’s entrepreneurial leanings that led to the company’s establishment in the first place. Having left the corporate world of Deloitte after articles, Wesley founded Blackslope, the venture and consulting firm Ndia and Paul would later join. Wesley was thrilled by the potential and possibility of finding opportunities, and for several years derived enormous satisfaction from growing a luxury leather goods brand – until he chanced upon some articles about Tesla. ‘It was clear to me that electric vehicles would be game changing, especially in Africa. I decided that we had to focus solely on commercializing these vehicles.’
Paul laughs about Wesley’s passion for the vehicles, calling him ‘Elon Musk’s understudy’ – but, in truth, they’re all in love with what they’re doing. ‘It’s unique, and it’s about sustainability and innovation. What’s not to love?’ says Paul.
‘It just makes sense,’ says Wesley, pointing to advantages like greater cost efficiency, fewer emissions and enormous comfort, to name just a few. His conviction is contagious – with so many benefits, why wouldn’t you make a switch which, in his opinion, is inevitable?
No petrol, no problem
Wesley’s view is that combustion engines and electric cars are not competing technologies. There is no question that the latter will prevail, because the technology is objectively better. ’Taking this as a fact, we looked at the South African landscape and thought, we can either wait for someone to drive this here, or we can do it ourselves,’ Ndia recalls.
The question was: which area of transport should be first to benefit from electrification? Given South Africans’ reliance on commuter taxies, the public transport sector seemed an obvious starting point, but months of research showed that the logistics sphere would be easier to navigate.
The trio admits that the concept was, initially, a hard sell. ‘As sound as Tesla’s argument may be, when I first read about it, even I thought it sounded weird,’ Wesley admits. So too did the first potential investors and clients Everlectric approached. ‘No one disagreed with us, but they weren’t signing up,’ Paul laughs.
The turning point came in 2019, when they identified what Ndia calls ‘the perfect OEM panel van’ – and, more to the point, convinced the manufacturer that South Africa was a viable market. ‘This was no simple process. We’d had to court several OEMs, do a lot of lobbying. But, in 2020, when we flew to China after months of emails to show the manufacturers just how serious we were, we felt that we were taking a major step forward.’
Just before they could gain any further momentum, the COVID pandemic took grip. Everlectric had officially hit a stumbling block: the sample vehicles were ready and waiting, but without finance, there was no way to bring them to South Africa. The three were adamant to find a way, however, before they lost the opportunity – and then, after injecting their life’s savings to pay for the sample vehicles, they landed their first seed investor. ‘It had been a true leap of faith,’ Wesley remembers. Ironically, says Ndia, it was probably the group’s determination to bring in those vehicles no matter what that finally persuaded their financier.
Either way, after realms of paperwork and legalities, the first vehicles arrived in South Africa in June 2021. Just a few months later, the company started trials which continue to this day: to date, five different vehicles have run in over 20 different fleets, completing close to 400 000 km.
And they’ve proved their worth. ‘Electric vehicles are faster, a lot more energy efficient, and cost efficient, too,’ Wesley enthuses. Consider, for example, that the average electric van saves about one ton of carbon every month – good news for city emissions and climate change, especially since many deliveries are to locales like hospitals and schools.
What about load-shedding?
The question has to be asked, though: how does load-shedding affect the running of the vehicles?
The short answer: it doesn’t. Think of your phone, for example. At worst, you have to make you’re able to charge your phone while you have power. This process takes, at most, an hour; however, the actual functionality of the phone remains unaffected during outages. The same goes for electric vehicles: they’re almost entirely unaffected by what’s happening on the grid, with the exception of the brief period it takes to charge. And, considering that you can drive close to 300 km off a single charge (almost a full day’s operations), that means reliance on the grid is minimal. And, in the unlikely event of a total collapse of the grid, the cars can charge on solar.
‘Eskom has actually devised a strategy for electric vehicles and is very excited about them. They’re an offtake of electricity, but most of the charging happens at night, when the power supplier has more capacity. This means that we’re keeping capital in the country, rather than spending it on overseas oil. It’s a net positive for our grid,’ Ndia says.
Added to this, the company has developed the Everlectric Cloud, which makes it possible to manage remote charging on clients’ behalf. ‘In other words, we’re able to keep track of vehicles that need charging. We can even remotely monitor, pause and restart charge sessions, so that we are able to ensure our clients have a charged vehicle every morning,’ Paul explains.
Where to next?
Having trialled the vehicles for 24 months, Everlectric is ready to take over South Africa’s entire fleet. ‘There are so many areas for us to expand into. Having cornered less than 2% of the market, we’ve barely scratched the surface,’ Ndia says.
Certainly, all signs point to the fact that the market is ready to adopt the idea. In April, Everlectric added another 50 vehicles to its fleet, bringing the total number of vehicles to 55. Apart from Woolworths, which has grown the number of vehicles in service so that there are now 30 in Gauteng and 12 in Cape Town, Everlectric’s clients now also include DSV.
The company has recently completed another round of fundraising, which has been used to purchase another tranche of vehicles; many of which have already been snapped up by eager clients.
‘This is an exciting time for us. We’ve shown that electric vehicles aren’t just for the eco-conscious driver; they are commercially viable. They do what you need them to do – and they do so in a way that is environmentally responsible, and which has great cost benefits, too,’ Paul concludes.
Did you know …
Still not sure why electric vehicles are set to transform South Africa’s logistics industry? Ndia sheds some light:
- They’re speedy: as Wesley describes them, having ‘instant torque’
- Operating costs are surprisingly low. ‘You’re looking at a cost of around 40c per kilometre to run the vehicle, compared with around R2 per kilometre for a combustion engine.’
- Electric vehicles require very little maintenance. The same cannot be said for combustion engines: with around 20 000 small parts involved in each car, repairs – which are often costly – are inevitable
- They are great in urban settings. While combustion engines struggle with stop/start city driving, electric vehicles are at their most efficient when driving in these conditions, thanks to their regenerative braking.