Electric Utes — Is Toyota Blind to Opportunity?

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Australian media is awash with news of companies transforming Toyota’s Land Cruisers and Hilux into electric utes. One must ask, is Toyota blind to this opportunity? It can’t be cheap to rip the guts out of a diesel fourby and replace it with electrics. Surely, Toyota could make a profit by building these trucks itself?

If SEA Electric and Roev can make a profit fitting up an EV, why can’t Toyota? Mining companies in Australia have been doing this for years. On the DL, I have been told by another CEO that they are in the middle of contract negotiations to do a similar deal turning even larger numbers of Land Cruisers into electric utes.

SEA Electric’s vision is to become “the premier global partner in powering commercial electric vehicles for urban delivery and logistics.” That’s combined with a mission “to eliminate 3+ billion lbs. of CO2 emissions over the next five years.”

Roev wants to move Australia towards zero emissions and re-establish onshore manufacturing by electrifying Australia’s favourite ute.

Whereas it appears that SEA is initially removing fossil fuel drivetrains and replacing them with electric, the plan is to move to importing gliders — that is, vehicles bereft of a drivetrain. Roev seems to be removing motors and replacing the drivetrain.

SEA plans to convert 8,500 vehicles over the next 5 years. Those of us who watch the EV space realise that 5 years is a very long time. The LDV eT60 electric ute recently launched, the first at $92,000. Will it compete? Over the next few years, will we see the Tesla Cybertruck, the Ford F-150 Lightning, and numerous Chinese branded electric utes arrive and make the SEA and Roev offerings too expensive?

Coming back to my original question, let’s hear from Toyoda, CEO of Toyota, from the mid-December launch of the Hilux Revo BEV concept in Thailand. He reiterated his belief that Toyota can achieve carbon neutrality with hybrid, plug-in hybrid, battery-electric, and fuel cell vehicles. Note: no technical specs were revealed, nor was a date set for production.

“To achieve carbon neutrality, we must remember that carbon is the real enemy, not a particular powertrain,” Toyoda said. “And frankly, BEV’s are not the only way to achieve the world’s carbon neutrality goals. At Toyota we believe in creating a full portfolio of carbon reducing choices for our customers from hybrid electric vehicles, plug-in electric vehicles, battery electric cars, and fuel cell vehicles. Also, we are pursuing hydrogen fuel options like these GR-Yaris and GR-Corolla hydrogen powered concept cars. As we work to achieve a sustainable future, I also believe we need to take a holistic approach to carbon neutrality.”

Seems like nothing has changed.

Roev has announced pricing for conversions, which range from AUS$50,000 to AUS$60,000 depending on the donor vehicle and the powertrain. Roev has plans to convert 1,000 vehicles in the first twelve months (probably starting mid-2023). The conversion is open to fleet buyers only. The standard range conversion will give 240 km of range, while a longer 360 km of range can be had with the larger battery.

The converted vehicles have an 11kW onboard charger, V2G capability, and V2L capability.

“With a conversion, you’re not only adding an electric vehicle to your fleet, but you’re also taking a diesel vehicle off the road and preventing many years of future tailpipe CO2 emissions,” said Roev CEO and cofounder Noah Wasmer. “Australia needs electric utes in massive numbers.”

SEA Electric is teaming up with Mevco to convert 8,500 Toyota Hilux and Land Cruisers over the next 5 years. These ZEV’s will replace diesel powered utes in the mining industry for a cost of AU $1 billion.

“Mevco is a portfolio company of RCF Jolimont, an innovation fund of Resource Capital Funds, one of the world’s leading mining-focused private equity managers.”

“In the case of the Hilux EV, the SEA-Drive powertrain comprises a permanent electric motor that produces a maximum of 180 hp (134 kW / 182 PS) and 700 Nm (516 lb-ft) of torque. Power is transmitted to either the rear (4×2) or to all four wheels (4×4) depending on the specification of the donor vehicle.”

“The company offers two different battery capacities – 60 kWh for a 260 km (162 miles) range or 88 kWh for a 380 km (236 miles) range. More importantly, the Hilux EV can charge to 80% in less than one hour thanks to the optional DC charging (standard 22 kWh AC charger).”

“SEA Electric claims that its system has completed over 2.5 million km (1.5 million miles) of real-world use to date, across eight countries. It appears that this is the largest deal of its kind to date. SEA Electric CEO Tony Fairweather says, “It marks a significant shift to electrified transport for commercial vehicles in the mining industry.”

SEA plans to expand its factory in Dandenong, Victoria, to 8000 sq metres to accommodate the increased production. The plan is to convert 4000 vehicles per year. The batteries will come with a five-year factory warranty. SEA expects health benefits to flow through to workers in the mining industry, as they will no longer have to put up with the heat, fumes, and noise of diesel work utes.

“This is a pivotal partnership for the mining industry,” said Matt Cahir, the CEO of Mevco. “It enables the world’s leading EV technology for heavy and light commercial trucks to be commercialized on a scale that makes sense for the bespoke needs of the mining sector.”

“Across all industries, companies now understand they have a role to play in ensuring they are a part of the solution to the environmental problems we face,” said Tony Fairweather, SEA Electric Founder & CEO. “With the SEA-Drive power-system, we have developed technology that is perfectly adaptable to a wide range of commercial vehicle tasks that have typically been the domain of diesel-powered engines. Through Mevco, the mining industry will now be able to access cutting-edge technology, which delivers top performance and total cost of ownership prospects, all with sustainability at the forefront. This deal is a significant step forward in Australia and shows just what is possible when it comes to electrifying the world’s fleets.”

SEA is active in the US, with orders to convert 1400 Hino trucks, and has also started converting some American yellow school buses to fully electric. The US government has a plan to spend US$5.5 billion to convert 550,000 US school buses by 2030.

“The race isn’t between car companies — it’s a race to protect our environment and the future for our children,” Roev CEO Noah Wasmer added.

We need all car companies to enter that race. Come and join us, Mr. Toyoda. There is opportunity to do good and also to make a profit.

Featured image courtesy of Mexco and SEA Electric.

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David Waterworth

David Waterworth is a retired teacher who divides his time between looking after his grandchildren and trying to make sure they have a planet to live on. He is long on Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA].

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