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Prime Mover Magazine

Electrifying the industry

Electrifying the industry

Metropolitan freight specialist, Kings Transport and Melbourne company, SEA Electric, have officially put Australia on the global electric mobility map with the delivery of nine fully electric vehicles.

Electric vehicles have been dominating the global headlines in recent months. Light-, medium- and heavy-duty vehicle developers alike have identified the technology’s potential in the commercial road transport market, each tackling the alternative-power sector in its own way.

Many an Australian operator has questioned the viability of electric vehicles in the country’s wide-open, typically long haul industry, yet it is in the nation’s freight capital of Melbourne that the world’s first large-scale investment in the electric vehicle technology has been made. In July this year, metropolitan transport specialist, Kings Transport, took delivery of the first in an order of nine fully-electric medium-duty trucks from fellow Victorian company, SEA Electric.

The first vehicles were handed over to Kings Transport at an official event in July, which saw over 100 people in attendance including SEA Electric Executive Chairman, Tony Fairweather, and Victorian Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Lily D’Ambrosio (see breakout box). The locally developed 11-tonne rigid trucks have an estimated range of just under 200km per charge and are based on an existing cab chassis retrofitted with SEA Electric’s modular ‘SEA-Drive’ driveline technology.

“[Our product line-up is] targeted at the small- to medium-sized commercial vehicle segment, where transport businesses operate relatively fixed-route applications with overnight layovers, which is the perfect application for electric vehicles,” Fairweather explained at the handover – adding that the SEA-Drive system was entirely developed in Australia.

Referring to an announcement by Volvo Cars that all of the company’s new models from 2019 will include an element of electric vehicle technology, Fairweather says the time has come for the internal combustion engine to make way for a more efficient, emission-free alternative. Agrees Kings Transport CEO, Tony Mellick, who says fleets have an obligation to drive technological change and be an enabler in reducing carbon emissions.

“We’re looking at the grand scheme and I am 100 per cent positive that we will eventually have a carbon tax – what form it takes, the politicians will decide,” Mellick says. “When that happens, we’re at the forefront: we will have the ability to act as a partner that can demonstrate a real reduction in emissions and add value to our partners’ operations. That puts us in good stead with them to retain and win their business.”

As a specialist in metropolitan transport tasks, Mellick says the business is perfectly set up to benefit from electric trucks, dismissing the long-range capability question that is so often raised. “Kings has a fleet of around 2,000 vehicles, 500 of which are owned and 1,500 are subcontracted, all working in metro or short haul intrastate deliveries, so the 200km range is suitable,” Mellick says. “The SEA Electric technology is built for start-stop traffic and hilly terrain and only takes four to six hours to charge between use.”
The vehicles charge off a three-phase power socket, which Mellick says means there is no additional infrastructure required, as most commercial premises would likely already have the power for the likes of electric forklifts. He adds that the SEA Electric trucks drive “like a big golf cart” with only two pedals and no gearbox, and only require minimal driver training.

“The important difference is understanding how the regenerative braking powers of the system work,” he says. “When you take your foot off the accelerator, it acts like a brake and the system generates electric energy that is used to recharge the truck’s batteries.”
The Kings Transport team worked closely with SEA Electric over the last year to provide advice and assistance as the SEA-Drive technology was developed, Mellick adds, giving valuable feedback on how to optimise the technology for local users, vehicle specifications and cab configurations. Currently utilising its own cab chassis design, Fairweather says that SEA Electric is already in “promising talks” with a range of OEMs and waste management companies to make its technology available to a broader audience.

As the executives expect the imminent uptake of the SEA Electric vehicles, Mellick says that getting Kings Transport involved with electric vehicles now puts the company ahead of the pack and is timely to the transport company’s recent rebrand. “Investing in electric vehicle technology is part of the brand journey that Kings Transport has been taking over the last 12 months as we prepare the company for the future,” Mellick explains. “One thing many transport companies don’t do well is plan how to stay relevant amongst emerging technology.”

Mellick points to the disruption to the taxi industry from the likes of Uber. “Everything new is old. The task Uber does is no different to a cab but the technology has changed the speed of how the task is done. At the end of the day, we pick up and deliver things, it’s not rocket science. But it’s the role of a CEO to position companies in a strategic position and if we can make those deliveries in a carbon neutral way, we can add value for our customers,” he says.

Mellick says other transport companies will likely soon follow suit due to a generational change in management priorities. “There is a generation that genuinely does care about the environment,” he states. “As millennials become decision makers, there will be a generation that will want to be part of that economy and be seen to take action for protecting the earth, making electric vehicles the acceptable norm.”
A hurdle that has thus far generally held transport companies back from investing in an electric future is the costs, Mellick says. However, his numbers tell a different story. “The SEA Electric truck is a good investment,” he says. “If you look at the commercial viability over five years, it’s the same cost as a combustions engine, only you pay the running costs up front.”

But that’s just the start, he says, adding that the by products of switching on electric trucks aren’t limited to the environmental benefits. “They’re also quieter and have few moving parts, which significantly changes how much time they’re off the road and in maintenance,” Mellick adds. “Look at it this way – the optimum time you can run a truck is between five and seven years, then there are heavy costs involved in repairs and maintenance for the engine and gearbox.

“In an electric truck, there is no engine to blow and no gearbox to replace, so you’re just looking to replace the battery. That turns a five year investment into 15 when the economics come into play, and simultaneously solidifies Kings Transport’s position in the market as an innovative company before anyone else.”
The first nine SEA Electric medium-duty vehicles are being used in Melbourne, where the world-leading technology was developed. However, Mellick says there have already been requests to implement the vehicles in the Kings Transport branches in Perth, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and New Zealand. “It is beyond question now that electric vehicles are going to be a substantial part of both the passenger and commercial vehicle sector in the future. The question is simply how great, and SEA has positioned its business, Victoria and Australia to benefit from this exciting journey.”

Fast Fact
SEA Electric initially planned to offer three models in Australia: an electric light van called E4V, a nine- to 11-tonne rigid named EV10 and a 12 to 15-tonne rigid sold as the EV14. However, industry demand has led to three more models: a 4.5-8.5 tonne rigid, a 17-18 tonne rigid and a 22-24 tonne rigid.

Fast Fact
The electric drive is not the only ‘smarts’ in the new SEA medium-duty trucks, explains Kings Transport CEO, Tony Mellick. “There is certainly some telematics in the trucks already that we’re co-developing with SEA Electric and Deakin University,” he says.
“The intention is for the truck to be one with the customer by embedding more technology, such as the ability to automatically initiate messages when deliveries are due, for example.”

Fast Fact
Leading up to the official handover event, SEA Electric had received a $500,000 grant out of the Victorian Government’s new Energy Jobs Fund. “It’s exciting to see a tangible example of how the New Energy Jobs Fund can contribute to the Victorian economy,” Victorian Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Lily D’Ambrosio, said at the event. “This remarkable project continues to cement Victoria as an electric vehicle powerhouse.”

Fast Fact
SEA Electric will now be able to ramp up its conversion of medium-duty trucks and commercial vans to electric vehicles, using $5 million in finance though the Clean Energy Innovation Fund as announced in August. Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) transaction lead, Melanie Madders, said the fund would help SEA Electric purchase components and scale up its manufacturing business to meet growing customer demand.

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