The dream of having a practical electric vehicle from South Africa has ended. At least, for now. Optimal Energy, which first trotted out its Keith Helfet-designed Joule at the 2008 Paris Motor Show has announced that it is shutting down.

Though it was originally expected to go on sale in 2010, plans were delayed by the world financial mess that made capital hard to come by. Production was then supposed to go ahead by 2014, but, after being unable to work out a R7 billion ($857.8 million at today's rates) deal with government agencies, that has also become impossible.

More recently, Optimal has shifted its focus, with a proposal to use the technology it had developed into producing an electric bus. Sadly, that project would have also relied on government help to get started and, in the end, was deemed too risky.

While CEO Kobus Meiring is saddened by the loss of his company, he still sees electric vehicles as having a bright future. We concur, and hope that South Africa will eventually have its own share of homegrown plug-in vehicles.


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