A deal that promises to transform Victoria’s former coal power hub into a national centre for Australian electric vehicle production has been announced by the state Labor government, through a support package that will help build a “massive” EV assembly plant in the Latrobe Valley.
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews and minister for industry Ben Carroll announced on Tuesday that the Labor government had committed an undisclosed amount to underpin the construction of a SEA Electric EV factory, most likely in Morwell, in the state’s Gippsland region.
The facility is expected to employ 500 Latrobe Valley locals, and assemble 2,400 vehicles a year – specialising in the production of electric delivery vans and minibuses using SEA Electric’s proprietary, and world-first, electric drive technology.
“Our announcement today, in partnership with SEA Electric, is all about making sure that the Latrobe Valley is the national capital for electric vehicles,” Andrews said during a press conference in Morwell.
“This is 500 manufacturing jobs, 500 new jobs in this proud region, putting together (electric) vehicles.
“It will be a particularly big facility.”
Andrews said the five-year support package was drawn from the $266 million Latrobe Valley support package, set up by the Labor to help the Valley transition from coal, after last year’s closure of the Hazelwood power plant.
“We can’t be telling all of our competitors and setting the price, if you like. We need to make sure that we get good value, and we have.
“This is exactly what we said we would do when we set up the Latrobe Valley authority,” he continued.
“This new plant will not only create jobs ongoing … but there’ll be jobs in the construction of the brand new factory.
“And of course, when you’re producing 2,400 vehicles a year, there’s more opportunity for more of that supply chain to be brought local, into this proud region.”
The deal is a major coup for SEA Electric, which – as company founder, majority share-shareholder and CEO, Tony Fair-weather explained on Tuesday – only came to market at the beginning of last year.
The company has proven its technology over the last 12 months – working from its existing Dandenong plant – which has featured in a number of major developments, including the debut of Victoria’s first all-electric garbage truck, earlier this month.
The new factory – which will be in addition to the Dandenong facility – will specialise in assembling the cab, battery pack and electric motor of SEA Electric’s E4V product: a 10 cubic meter delivery van that was released in July.
According to Fairweather, that van is currently achieving a range of well over 300km and has a payback period of well under four years, in comparison to the diesel equivalent.
It will also produce a 15-seat E4B, which is a commuter bus – tapping the company into what Fairweather says is “a very large segment” in Australia.
“There’s about 25,000 of those collective units sold a year in Australia – every one of them is a internal combustion engine, every one of them is fully imported. So we’re entering a segment that is large, and is dominated by imported OEM.
“We at SEA Electric are extremely excited about this opportunity… and not just for the opportunity of employing hundreds of Latrobe Valley residents,” he said.
“Also, we see it as providing an opportunity for Victorian automotive suppliers, components suppliers, to transition through innovation into this exciting new automotive segment, and be able to supply us, and global markets for that matter, with components we’re still required to import.
“This EV revolution is here, it’s here to stay. It’s being driven by economics now,” Fairweather added.
“It’s not just an environmental play, and it’s not just a noise play. It’s cheaper to have a 100 per cent electric commercial vehicle for delivery and distribution purposes that it is an internal combustion engine vehicle.
“We’re at the pointy end of the economic cycle in this particular space. And we’ve got a global point of difference, not just a Latrobe Valley point of difference, or an Australian point of difference. So we’re extremely bullish about this particular space.”
Fairweather said the company was currently scouting for potential sites for the Latrobe Valley factory, and hoped to have it up and running – and producing EVs – within a year.
In terms of jobs, however, the company is already recruiting.
“We’d like to see Latrobe Valley employees producing E4Vs and E4Bs out of Dandenong within the next three or four months,” he said.
Minister Carroll said the state government investment – which is not dependent on the outcome of the upcoming election – in the new facility would put Victoria on the path to be a “national leader” in EVs.
“The auto sector is going to change more in the next five years than it has in the past 50,” Carroll said on Tuesday.
“These SEA vehicles … (are) one of a kind, they’re world-first and they’re going to be built right here in the Valley.
Andrews stressed that the factory would be “a particularly big facility,” to add to SEA Electric’s “significant already” Dandenong base.
“This is a big next step, but what comes after it may be even bigger.
“There is limitless potential beyond that… to deliver a product that will be the envy of the world.”