For decades the Land Rover has been an iconic part of the classic African safari. The four-wheel drive vehicles were once the only way to travel through the rugged countryside while following the massive herds of wild animals that inhabit that continent. Soon, an electric version of the Land Rover Defender may be available, allowing for an even more eco-friendly approach to spotting animals.
At the 2011 INDABA Travel and Tourism show, which ended yesterday in South Africa, Axeon, a company that specializes in lithium-ion batteries, unveiled a concept vehicle which was co-developed with Jaguar Land Rover South Africa. That vehicle had its usual 2.4 liter diesel engine replaced with a drive system powered by an Axeon's high-capacity battery that is designed to perform in extreme conditions and in rugged environments. Axeon says that its testing shows that the electric Land Rover does very well in those conditions, while still having three times the range of a typical game drive.
Of course, the most exciting thing about this prototype is that it has zero emissions. The standard LR Defender spews out 295 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer driven, which makes it a less than stellar performer in terms of being ecologically friendly. Considering that it is often used in some of the more spectacular, yet fragile, environments on the planet, only adds to the concern. Axeon's model is completely carbon neutral however, which heightens its appeal amongst tour operators across Africa, many of which specialize in the ecotourism trade.
The electric Defender has an additional side benefit for travelers as well. It is completely silent, which means that it doesn't disturb the animals on safari either. While going through a series of rigorous tests at the Land Rover Gerotek proving grounds, the battery powered version was able to consistently get closer to the wildlife than the traditional model powered by a combustion engine, something that will probably be highlighted in the travel brochures of early adopters.
While the electric land rover has been well received by tour operators, it may yet be some time before we see them in the field. Still, it is nice to envision a day in the not too distant future when travelers can take a safari that has no impact on the environments they are visiting, protecting the natural resources there for future generations to enjoy as well.