An ‘altermotive’ industrial future for Nelson Mandela Bay



Nelson Mandela Bay has a golden opportunity to build an “altermotive” industry.


This means leveraging our strengths as the automotive manufacturing hub of SA to develop “automotive alternatives” and grow and diversify industry in the Bay in new directions.


The manufacturing infrastructure, processes, technology and skills built up around our local automotive industry are primed for participation in the global shift to alternative mobility solutions and renewable energy.


While local demand for new energy vehicles (NEVs) is still very low (but will undoubtedly grow), local auto manufacturers are planning for the transition already taking place in their export markets — for example, Ford SA announced a R5.2bn investment last week in the production of hybrid plug-in bakkies for the European, Australian and New Zealand markets.


BYD, the world’s biggest electric vehicle manufacturer, started selling their electric vehicles in SA in June, which will be on sale in the Eastern Cape from December.


Both of these positive developments present opportunities for local industry and suppliers.


Assembling battery modules for smaller EVs and e-bikes, e-scooters and e-tuktuks is one such opportunity, as is that we have the technology here to manufacture those e-bikes and other mobile options, and service emerging markets where they are popular forms of transport and are shifting from fuel to alternative energy.


There are also opportunities to be found in the decline of internal combustion engines (ICEs).


Consider that “legacy” engines will need to still be built for about 10 years after a manufacturer switches over to EVs to service their ICE vehicles that are still on the roads in various markets.


ICEs are also not likely to be phased out in all markets just yet, especially in emerging economies — and will need parts and servicing.


It will not be practical for a manufacturer to maintain an ICE production line once they have switched to EV manufacturing.


This presents an opportunity, which Nelson Mandela Bay is well-positioned for, to establish a multi-product assembly facility building these legacy engines for different auto manufacturers.


As they are unlikely to be high-volume, and volumes will decrease over time, they are unlikely to use high levels of automation and will instead create employment.


And while we might not be building electric vehicles in SA in substantial quantities for the local market in the immediate future, we can gear up for alternative fuel technologies such as ammonia and hydrogen, particularly where there are opportunities to convert buses and trucks to these green fuels.


We have the technology and skills that can be converted from the catalytic converter sector to produce electrolysers, essential in low-carbon production of hydrogen.


There will also be a need for specialised storage and transportation facilities for products such as hydrogen and ammonia.


In other sections of the automotive industry, we have the technology and the skills to switch to manufacturing components for renewable energy generation.


The planned Hive Hydrogen investment in the Coega SEZ must be kept on track, because of the many opportunities it can unlock.


These are just some of the solutions being pursued by the Local Economy Reinvention Think Tank set up by the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber, bringing together some of the Bay’s futurethinkers and innovators to explore how we can make the leap (or leapfrog) into the rapidly-advancing low carbon economy of the future.


This is not about letting imaginations run wild in “blue sky” thinking, but about identifying realistic, practical opportunities to reshape our local economy and industrial base, based on the real strengths we have in manufacturing infrastructure, expertise, skills and technology.


We intend to stimulate debate and fresh thinking and come up with concrete, implementable solutions about how best to take advantage of what we have — and we welcome input and participation, because the only way we are going to save our local economy and bring about change is to start the process ourselves.