“Switch it on,” I suggest eagerly, as Steve concludes his intro and we are parked off in the shade of a large tree at Makanyi Lodge, Timbavati.
“It has been on since you arrived,” he returns, a smug grin barely suppressed.
Having driven a diesel Defender for much of my life (my Landy is 25 years young, and has trundled almost 300,000 kms – still going strong), and various Landcruisers, in remote and tough terrains across Africa, I expected the performance of an electric game drive vehicle to be, well, on the soft side. There I said it. Was I wrong!
Now I am no vehicle expert, but I do recognise an industry game-changer when it seduces me from the first second.
MY TURN AT THE WHEEL
During my time at the wheel we descended into a sandy and rocky drainage line, and bumbled to the end with barely a shudder. In my experience, Defenders take on these obstacles like a tractor – slowly and determinedly. And Landcruisers require careful control of the accelerator, to avoid wheel-spinning.
Both vehicles can handle this terrain, but in different ways, and experienced off-road drivers understand that. This beast had no such issues.
The deep sand was simply not noticed, and no skill was required beyond steering. And the rocks. Well, we simply climbed and descended them with barely a twitch of my right foot, or the use of the breaks.
And the acceleration on the open jeep tracks was breathtaking, truly – they will have to speed-govern this thing in game reserves.
Let’s talk about noise. There was none. Aside from the sound of tyres rolling over gravel, and the odd creak from the chassis and suspension. It was quite eerie actually. A bit like cycling.
This meant that for a change I could actually hear and read the bush sounds during the drive – bird alarm calls, far-off leopards grunting, insects zitting. This alone is a significant improvement in the safari experience. And the wildlife we encountered during the drive (elephants, giraffes, impalas, warthogs and birds) seemed totally unfazed by our arrival, and more relaxed with us being there.
One elephant came up to us and browsed just behind the silently idling vehicle. When we moved off he did not flinch, as animals often do when you kickstart a fossil fuel engine.
Long-time friend, and deeply experienced safari camp logistics expert, Kevin Leo-Smith, did not hide his enthusiasm – which is unusual for this quiet individual. He understands more of the technical stuff than I do, and was obviously extremely impressed with the vehicle’s performance, mechanical setup and at how Steve replied to his many practical questions about the costs and logistics of running this vehicle.
In fact, Kevin was still raving about this vehicle on the brief drive back to our home town of Hoedspruit. Very unusual. If Kevin is happy with the technical stuff, so am I.
COST AND CARBON FOOTPRINT SAVINGS
Many lodges will use solar to charge these vehicles, and the carbon footprint and cost benefits of the switch from fossil fuels to electric are obvious. In addition, Steve says that lodges need not buy new vehicles – they simply convert their old vehicles, and end with vehicles that are as good as new.
And so, the savings on environmental and financial costs compared to a new vehicle are significant. Ongoing repair and maintenance costs are also minimal, because of the removal of the hard-wearing parts of fossil-fuel vehicles.
This vehicle is a no-brainer decision, both economically and ecologically.
WHO IS STEVE?
Steve Blatherwick is the hard-working genius behind Electric Safari Vehicles, and his vehicles are now being sought after by safari lodge owners who want to make a difference, and save money.
He is a busy guy, understandably so. Get in line.
I cannot think of one advantage that fossil-fuel game drive vehicles have over this particular rendition of the electric game drive vehicle. This is surely the beginning of the end for fossil-fuel game drive vehicles…
I want one.
VIDEO: Watch a brief amateur video made by the writer: