The Electric Ute Roadshow

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After a few minor glitches, the Solar Citizens Electric Ute Roadshow is touring regional cities in Victoria. Solar Citizens is displaying its LDV eT60 to amazed and enthusiastic audiences, including many politicians who have never seen an electric ute before.

Electric Ute Roadshow
Irony. Electric Ute outside Susan Ley’s electoral office. Photo courtesy of Solar Citizens.

“Clean Transport Campaigner”Ajaya Haikerwal tells me it was a relief to finally get on the road after two years of confinement due to COVID and many months of meticulous planning. “Utes have a significant cultural weight in Australia. It is important to show people in rural settings that EVs are for everyone.” We spoke over the phone as the LDV eT60 charged up at Airport West in Melbourne, getting ready for the run to Euroa for a meeting tonight in conjunction with Farmers for Climate Action.

He says that people in the regions felt left behind — they didn’t want a small, quiet electric sedan that might serve the “city folk.” They wanted a vehicle that was fit for purpose “on the land.” So, when Heidi Lee Douglas — National Director of Solar Citizens — heard that LDV was bringing out a ute suitable for Australian conditions, she contacted them and set the wheels in motion.

Electric Ute Roadshow
Electric Ute Roadshow. Photo courtesy of Solar Citizens.

A generous donor has secured the ute and is leasing it to Solar Citizens for the duration of the tour. Everywhere they go, they are asked: “Do you get commission on sales?” No, they are educators. Solar Citizens is also using the tour to launch its report encouraging our lawmakers to introduce Fuel Efficiency Standards. They are getting a positive response from Labour, Greens, and Independent politicians.

Ajaya tells me that there have been some issues with charging — particularly using Tritium chargers, as some of the older ones have broken down and parts and service are scarce. Three out of the 6 chargers at Airport West in Melbourne were out of action. Tritium has become a victim of its own success. Thankfully, there are is an ever-expanding system of car chargers and issues have been resolved.

One amusing incident occurred when an EV driver thought that the charger was ICEd and was amazed to find that the big blue vehicle was actually a fully electric ute — not even a PHEV!

When I first spoke with Solar Citizens last year, they expected to have the tour up and running early in the year, with an impressive number of events in the schedule. The ute delivery was delayed a few months and so the team went back to the drawing board. “We readjusted our expectations and refocussed on what was most important: influencing our politicians to make the right decisions. We aim to give them the social licence to push for stronger clean transport policy.”

With a stated range of 330 km (205 miles), a trip visiting Australia’s regional centres has to be “heavily planned.” Ajaya tells me that they got into the red once — the town was 40 km (25 miles) away and the ute warned them that they had only got 18 km (11 miles) of range in the tank. So, they slowed down from 110 km/h to 90 km/h, turned off the air conditioning, turned on eco mode, and made it with ease.

The LDV eT60 has power-to-load capability, but the team found it only put out enough power to run a laptop. Other electric vehicles available at venues were used to power the BBQ instead.

Electric Ute Roadshow
BYD Atto 3 cooks the snags. Photo courtesy of Solar Citizens.

From the blogs, we read of their first stop at Ballarat 116 km (72 miles) west of Melbourne:

“We had a great turnout of EV-owning locals who brought them along to display and chat to people about their experiences, including two electric motorbikes, a Tesla Model 3, a Nissan Leaf, and the new Kia EV6. Most impressive was Steve’s 1948 Singer Ute, which he’s recently converted to electric power! We loved this so much that we decided to name our LDV ‘Steve’ in his honour.”

Electric Ute Roadshow
Converted to electric. Photo courtesy of Solar Citizens.

“It was a pleasure to kick things off with a Welcome to Country performed by Wadawurrung traditional owner Shannen Mennen, which beautifully connected us to the land where we were running the event. Shannen spoke of the creation story of the Ballarat area, with an eagle dropping seeds into the landscape — this really resonated with us, as we try to plant the seeds of a better future.”

Catherine King MP, the Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government — and Member for Ballarat! — launched the Solar Citizens Recharging Ballarat report. She was excited to check out the ute and tweeted “Remember when we were told that EVs would ruin the weekend? Only 10 months ago the now deputy opposition leader told us there were no electric utes anywhere in the world. Thanks Solar Citizens for bringing your ute to Ballarat and showing the regions that there are EVs for us too!”

The next event to visit was the Yackandandah folk festival in Jiatmathang country, 308 km (191 miles) from Melbourne. They charged up at Euroa on the way. More about Yakandandah’s energy independence can be read here.

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“We certainly turned a lot of heads as the ute rolled slowly along the street, emitting its musical hum as Ajaya and Russell walked in front of it! The Yack Folk Festival was a street party with stalls lining either side of the street. We rocked up halfway through the market day so we had to be carefully escorted through the crowds.” I guess it brought to mind the days of early horseless carriages, when they had to be preceded by a man waving a red flag.

“We parked near a group of Nissan Leafs, and people young and old came to see the big blue & yellow beast and find out what it could do! They saw the words ‘Electric Ute’ and were surprised that this thing existed.”

“When we told people that Fuel Efficiency Standards were the key to getting a wider variety of EVs into the country — including utes that could tow more and drive further — and that we were on our way to Canberra to give the pollies a push on this issue, lots of them signed our petition (you can sign it here).”

After staying the night in Albury, the team met with the local council team, which is looking into buying a ute and a few passenger cars as a trial to see how they meet their needs.

On the way to Shepparton — 173 km from Albury — Ajaya finally got to drive the eT60 ute. It was a very different experience to his normal ride, a petrol Mazda 2. He waxes poetic about the experience: “This was my first time actually driving the eT60 more than a few metres in the car park. And drive it does! There’s an almost musical hum that increases in pitch as your foot glides down on the accelerator, breathing life into this wonderfully unique car.”

At Shepparton’s Museum of Vehicle Evolution, the team met with and were interviewed by Warwick Long from the ABC’s “Landline” program during a test ride.

The member for Nicholls, Sam Birrell MP, and his staffer Darren also got to go for a spin in the ute. Mr. Birrell is an enthusiastic advocate for renewable energy and technology, especially as it benefits his local community.

“On the way back to Melbourne (192 km) the next day, we stopped off at the Avenel Evie charging station, which sits at a truck stop and petrol station. After plugging in the ute, something unexpected happened. ‘What the hell is that thing?!’ called a curious, yet friendly voice.

“We turned around and a motorbike rider had come over, curious to see what this ute was doing here … and why it was charging! Ben and I explained our Electric Ute Roadshow, why we were doing it, and a bit about charging. ‘Bloody hell, that’s just as cheap as filling up my bike with petrol!’ exclaimed the rider when we mentioned the charge from 5–80% was costing us around $20.”

After breakfast, Ajaya found a group of men gathered around the ute — no, they didn’t have flaming torches and pitchforks. “If I could get my hands on one of those I would,” one of them said. The team is enjoying talking to real people and reaching beyond the cities and the already converted.

“People are curious and want to know more — we now just have to give them the opportunity to come and find out.” Although price is still a barrier, the LDV eT60 sells for AU$20,000 less in New Zealand due to more generous government policies. Solar Citizens hopes that future changes in federal policies may help.

You can follow the Electric Ute Roadshow events here.

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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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