South Africa is poised to enter the electric car market when it debuts its new "Joule" electric vehicle at Geneva next week.

The vehicle's makers, Optimal Energy, will unveil the latest body design for the five-door electric hatchback due to hit South Africa's streets in 2010. Five hundred are expected to be produced in 2012, jumping to 30,000 in 2013. Joule is the first electric car to be designed and built in South Africa.

An early prototype of the Joule was shown at the 2008 Paris Motor Show, designed by former Jaguar design guru Keith Helfet. Since then, production has got underway in Port Elizabeth and trial models should be on the road by June this year.

Optimal Energy claims that the Joule will offer a driving range of 300 km and a top speed of 135 km/h. With a standard South African 220V outlet, the Joule will recharge in approximately seven hours. It is expected to retail for between R238,000 (€22,700) and R278,000 (€26,500).

The South African automotive industry is expected to grow, albeit slowly, between 2010-2011, continuing the positive trend it has demonstrated over 15 years until the recession hit in 2009. The country is one of several keen to make an impact in the electic vehicle market, which requires a different industry and skillset to traditional car manufacturing. The electric TH!NK City car, for instance, has proved a global hit for Norway after becoming one of the few road-ready EVs on the market.

The Geneva Motor Show will be open to the public March 4-14.

Joule website

Geneva Motor Show website: