The entrepreneur tackling a huge load with dreams to develop SA’s first electric bakkie

To follow in the footsteps of Elon Musk and his successful venture into the electric vehicle (EV) market is not going to be easy for any entrepreneur with a desire to take a load off the planet. While he admits it’s no easy task, young entrepreneur Nhlanhla Mazibuko is trying to do just that. Mazibuko is developing an electric bakkie, which caught the interest of social media when he delivered a virtual presentation of the concept car at the e-Mobility Congress earlier this year. Mazibuko told BizNews that as a firm believer in sustainable energy, he was frustrated by the fact that South Africa was behind Europe and the US – so he decided to do something about it. – Linda van Tilburg

Nhlanhla Mazibuko on the inspiration behind his electric bakkie:

I guess it was frustration about how slowly South Africa – and the rest of the continent – was adapting to electric vehicles. When you look at Europe, the UK, and the US, everything is moving quickly. I looked at [it] locally [and realised] we’re not getting this. The climate change problem to me has always been something that I care about. We needed to do more on our end. Tesla is trying to do great, but they need help. We need more electric vehicles as well. I just decided to take on the task and see how far I can push it. That’s where it started.

On his background:

I studied civil engineering. I didn’t finish, though, so I started to work. When I went into the field as a site agent, I realised that I didn’t love it that much. I didn’t love how slow the technology was in civil engineering. I quit my job and I started my first company. From there, my love for tech really started because I started to do websites [and] building apps. I taught myself how to [do that]. 

But I felt like I was not doing enough in terms of climate change – in terms of moving the world away from fossil fuels. There was a time when I was depressed; I didn’t want my life to be just apps and websites. I needed to have more meaning and have [a bigger] impact on the world.

On the inspiration behind his electric car company:

I was talking to my friend about how frustrated I was about electric cars, that we don’t have them; things are moving slowly and climate change is a serious problem. We were speaking about electric cars and he said, ‘we should probably start an electric car company’. I laughed at him. No one just starts a car company. But he said, ‘if someone could do it, it’s probably you’. I think from there, the idea just started playing in my head. I couldn’t even sleep just thinking about it. I thought, maybe I could try it out and a couple of months later, I did.

On the development of the electric bakkie:

Right now we’re finishing off the concept stage. We’re doing a couple of changes from what we had. We want to make a couple of changes to the design so that we can start building our prototype. We’re working with one of the largest car manufacturers. They’re giving us ideas on what could work and what wouldn’t work. We’re moving from that concept now and transitioning into the prototype stage. From April, we’re going to start our prototype.

On the design of the electric bakkie:

With the design, [futuristic] is what we were going for. We wanted the car [to look] how we believe they will look like in a couple of years. I remember when we were designing it, one of the designers wanted a [radiator] grille. But it’s an EV so it doesn’t need one. We have to design EVs the way cars of tomorrow are going to look, not how they’re styled now.

On project funding:

We don’t have as much [funding] as we’d like, but we’re talking with a lot of investors right now – still early stage talks. So far, we’ve had a number of meetings with VCs [and we’re] also talking with the government. The government has committed some portion of the money. In terms of our seed round, we’re looking at US$10 million. That’s going to be enough runway to get us from where we are now to pre-production.

With that amount of money, we’re going to be able to build our prototype, [do] serial development, and do all of the necessary testing and tooling. Right before production, that’s where it’s going to get us. 

On when it could potentially be on the road:

 Late 2023/early 2024. We have very good partners who help us with the knowledge of assembling and manufacturing. With the first model, we won’t do it ourselves so that we don’t have to spend that much money. We’re thinking of using contract manufacturers so that they can use their own plant and assembly lines. Later, we can build at our own plants.

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