According to a 2008 study by the International Energy Agency (IEEA), South African vehicles emit 44-million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, annually.
This spurred Dave Varty (owner of Londolozi) to task his management team with the development of the first zero emissions game viewing vehicle to create a carbon footprint-free safari experience.
Chris Kane Berman, Londolozi’s general manager, heads up this project.
The team started working on the concept of an electric-powered 4×4 in 2008. After about six months of research and planning, it was decided to split the project into three phases: importing an electric vehicle from China; converting one of their existing Land Rovers into a full electric vehicle; and developing a fully solar-powered vehicle, so that electricity wouldn’t be required to recharge the vehicle’s batteries.
“The development of this project has far exceeded our expectations, and we’ve now also added experimental solar-powered tractors and guest utility carts to the test fleet,” says Chris.
“These vehicles are currently undergoing testing and are proving very successful.”
The Land Rover, although not solar-powered yet, is a success story in itself.
“A game drive in an electric vehicle has proved to be an exhilarating experience. It has an eerily silent feel and the audible bush ambiance becomes a real feature of this silent adventure,” says Chris.
One of Chris’ initial concerns was how the wild animals, who have grown accustomed to the noises associated with an internal combustion engine, would react to he new “stealth technology”. But he needn’t have worried. If anything the vehicle’s movement was less intrusive than anything he’s experienced in the past.
“The driving experience is very similar to driving a golf cart, just much bigger and with an amazing amount of torque that allows you to go almost anywhere. But somehow, when an engine is running, you know what to expect when you press down on the accelerator. In our electric Land Rover it’s a surreal sensation to use your right foot and silently experience the power as the vehicle surges forward,” says Chris.
When the fully-loaded 4×4 Landy was first field-tested, it performed well. Sandy river crossings, steep dongas and dry river beds presented no problems. But there was an initial hick-up with getting of the line from standstill.
If the driver stepped on the accelerator with too much initial force, the drivetrain did not react. At all.
In a situation where tourists are carted around, close to wild animals, a quick getaway is paramount, especially if one adds a large and irrate elephant bull to the mix.
So some adjustments were needed.
Chris quotes the enigmatic Henry Ford when he remembers this little hick-up: “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.”
So Chris and his team produced “Prototype 2”, boasting vastly improved electrics – and the ability to get off the line from a standing start very briskly indeed.
“It is now on par with anything our current game drive vehicles can do,” says Chris.
Jeremy Greenwood from Jaguar and Land Rover’s Innovation Acceleration Team recently travelled from the United Kingdom to go on an “electric game drive” and experience the vehicle first-hand at Londolozi.
He was so impressed that a portion of Jaguar and Land Rover’s five-year and R8-billion budget to reduce CO2 emissions internationally has apparently been allocated to Land Rover South Africa – specifically to develop the electric Land Rover concept further. The only major limiting factor (for now) appears to be battery technology.
“But we hope this will lead to our ultimate goal of a fleet of electric Land Rovers roaming silently over Londolozi’s 15000 hectares. We are optimistic that lighter, longer lasting, deep-cycle Lithium-Ion batteries are on the way which will offer better overall performance, while weighing considerably less than the current items.
Thankfully some of the best technical minds in the world, working for large multi-national motor companies, are working on this new technology, so we should see some results in the not too distant future,” says Chris.
For now though, Londolozi’s Green Dream is very much alive and well.
“One day, sooner rather than later, our fleet of electric safari and support vehicles will spend the day parked in the sun, busy recharging the batteries, in preparation for the afternoon’s zero emissions game drive. We are very excited about the implications of a future silent safari with cheaper operating costs and a lower carbon footprint… not to mention the unique experience for the guests,” says Chris.
He also believes the days of V8-powered Land Rover petrol guzzlers and smoky diesel game-viewing vehicles are certainly numbered, and is keen to share the new electric Land Rover experience with visitors.
“If you are in the neighbourhood, pop in and I will take you for a test drive. Then you can experience for yourself the beauty of soundless motion through the bush. It really is something special,” says Chris.
* Read the rest of our very interesting “green
stories” in the July issue of Leisure Wheels. This is a regular feature every month. Don’t miss it!