How South Africa is leading the way for the automotive battery

How much do you know about your car battery? If you’re like most people, chances are you think the car battery is a black box that starts your car and that you don’t really think too much about…until it fails.

The humble and understated automotive battery has a remarkably rich history and the best part, South African battery manufacturers have been showing the rest of the world how to innovate in this sector.

The first battery changed motoring forever

It all started in 1799 when physicist and chemist, Alessandro Volta invented the electric battery, known as the “Voltaic pile”. With this invention Volta proved that electricity could be generated chemically and debunked the prevailing theory that electricity was only generated by living beings.

New applications for the battery sprung up all over the place­­––the most significant being as an electric starter for motor vehicles, replacing the turner crank (which albeit a good upper body workout, was especially problematic on cold mornings).

This first iteration of the car battery needed maintenance––and needed it often.

In 1931 First National Battery was the first battery manufacturer to introduce starter batteries into the automotive industry in South Africa. They were also the first to be awarded the SABS mark and it’s no wonder they went on to become the trusted battery manufacturer for all car brands in South Africa.

The lead-acid battery and the alternator

In 1931 the lead-acid battery was introduced and with it the need for alternators to be fitted in cars, which prevented the battery from heating up too quickly. This innovation made great strides and meant that the lifespan of car batteries increased dramatically.

The early lead-acid batteries were not without their challenges, such as weight and the need to be refilled with “battery water”, which is actually a mix of sulphuric acid and water.


The Absorbed Glass Mat battery another giant step for motoring

In the mid 80’s, First National Battery innovated again with the introduction of the Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) Battery. This low-maintenance battery technology is lighter, maintenance-free and designed for high starting currents and cycling applications.

The need to reduce carbon emissions and improve fuel efficiency which was require by Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) drove First National Battery to develop a Valve Regulated Lead Acid (VRLA) battery using AGM technology. This went on to be the battery that is used in Start/Stop battery applications. Most new cars in South Africa today are equipped with AGM batteries, such as Raylite batteries and this advanced technology has allowed vehicle manufacturers to consistently innovate to suit the needs of drivers. What’s more, the technology of these batteries is so advanced they are installed in cars using Start/Stop technology that require robust batteries to withstand the high starting currents.

As more features are being introduced in modern cars, a second battery is being utilised in some models on the road today and will be a feature in most cars of the future. The second battery assists with the demands of start/stop and hybrid technology without compromising on driver comforts, such as heated seats, infotainment systems and high-end audio systems.

What’s next for the automotive batteries?

Lithium-ion batteries are the next evolutionary step for the automotive battery, not only for electric vehicles, but also hybrid and traditional vehicles.

The benefits of Lithium-ion batteries include,

  • 25 – 50% more capacity, so motorists will run out of adventures before running out of power.
  • Voltage does not drop, so motorists will have constant power
  • Lightweight, which means cars are lighter and use less power
  • Maintenance-free.


The future of automotive batteries is here. If you would like to find out more about a Lithium-ion battery for your car or motorcycle, they have just become available in South Africa at Battery Centre.