RJ van Spaandonk brought the Apple electronics array to SA and Nigeria. He has also been behind Nintendo and Chinese brand Xiaomi.
John Fraser, a Messenger Motoring contributor caught up with him…….
JF. What was your first car? And what can you tell us about it?
RJ. The first car I bought in South Africa was in 1998 – a vintage 1973 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, in mint condition, with less than 60,000 km on the clock. On the first extended trip, to Van Reenen, it broke down on the N3 near Warden, on a Saturday afternoon. The mechanic that came out from Warden Motor City took one look and said: “Nee man, I am not going to touch that car”. One call to Rolls-Royce in Johannesburg and they sent a flatbed truck and a rental car. Impeccable service, given that the car was already 25 years old.
JF: Do you enjoy motoring?
RJ. Hate it with an absolute passion, mostly brought on by other road users. Used to like cars, though, but mostly as accoutrements.
JF: You are one of SA’s foremost experts on IT. Do you think auto technology is keeping pace with overall trends?
RJ. It is ahead of everything else; the most exciting space to be in technology today. I think even Elon Musk is surprised by how fast things are moving. By the time electric cars will be coming to South Africa, they will mostly be self-driving. I have heard of Tesla owners trading in their cars after 6 months because the actual hardware of the car cannot keep up with the software innovation. The fact that Germany recently published guidelines for the ethical behaviour of self-driving cars gives you an idea of how fast the automotive sector is changing.
JF: You use Uber a lot. What are the benefits, and is it cost-effective?
RJ. I did the sums, and got rid of my car. I figured that I used my last car for 2% of the time, and it cost me R17 per km. Uber will cost you between R7.50 and R13 per km. And you don’t have to worry about licensing, insurance, maintenance, filling up, parking, etc. And, you can have an extra tipple at lunch. But most importantly, you don’t have to drive yourself; I am a tense driver, but a relaxed backseat passenger. During the 40 minutes a day I spend in an Uber, I get a lot of calls and other work done.
JF: And what about their food offering?
RJ: Tried it for the first time for this interview. Total and utter epic fail: food was late, cold and looked disgusting. In hindsight, the problem seems to have been a mapping problem, and the driver was sent to my house via a route that does not in actual fact exist. Fortunately, the matter was resolved with their customer support team to my satisfaction. But the fact remains that it is a very hard business get right, and from my little involvement in the fast food industry it is clear that the best results come from chains that do their own delivery, and only one stop at a time. Anyway, going forward I will stick to Uber’s transportation services.
JF: There has been some violent attack on Uber drivers by traditional taxi operators who fear for their future. Do you have any sympathy for the established taxi industry?
RJ: None whatsoever. They behave like thugs in a losing battle; you cannot stop the sharing economy. Quite frankly, the only reason why they don’t want to join it is that all their earnings would now be part of the formal economy, and thus taxable. As a matter of fact, I ended my relationship with one of the companies last week that seem to have allowed Sandton City to become a no-go zone as an Uber collection point.
JF. You have been closely involved with the roll-out of smartphones in SA. Do you accept that they can be a real menace when used by stupid drivers?
RJ. The use of smartphones whilst driving has been proven time and again to be utterly distracting and sometimes outright dangerous, by any sort of driver. Another reason why people should be using Uber.
JF. What road regulation/s annoys you most?
RJ. As many have said before me: speed limits, especially on the N3. These days, any decent car can do 150 km/h comfortably and safely, and I am a strong advocate of variable speed limits based on weather and traffic conditions. But then again, we all know that speeding tickets are a sin tax, and speed traps a shakedown.
JF. What driving habit in other motorists annoys you the most?
RJ. Not many South Africans will agree with me, based on their behaviour. It is drinking and driving. It is the most irresponsible thing you can do on the road. I am one of those that will take your keys away at the end of the evening and call an Uber for you.
JF. Have you ever owned a car with a bar? If so, did you use it?
RJ. I kind of did, for a day, but never used it. In 2002, I put a deposit down for a Rolls-Royce Silver Spur with a view to ferrying people around during the Earth Summit in Johannesburg. When it turned out that you needed a taxi permit for that, I returned it after a day of test driving, and Amex was able to claim the deposit back.
JF. You have been based in Sandton in Jo’burg for some time. Does the pace of development and the rise in congestion there worry you?
RJ. Sandton is still quite manageable compared to Nairobi, Lagos and Cape Town, and you care a lot less in the back of an Uber.
JF. Do you tip car guards?
RJ. Used to, but no longer, since I am no longer driving.