Earlier this week, we reported on the announcement that Victoria would help fund a new electric vehicle factory in the Latrobe Valley with plans to assemble 2400 light commercial vehicles and commuter buses a year and employ as many as 500 locals.
Today, we look in a bit more detail at the company behind the news – SEA – and talk to founder and managing director Tony Fairweather.
SEA has been working on its proprietary world-first electric drive technology for six years, and while it’s only six months since the first road-going light commercials hit the streets, the company is seeing sales success.
The company has recently signed a deal to deliver 10 SEA-equipped refuse trucks to New Zealand and there is lots of interest from Australian councils, plus potential tie-ups with major international light commercial vehicle manufacturers.
SEA packs – which include all the parts, including a built-in high-voltage charger – are designed to electrify a truck chassis or delivery van, and an easily be fitted on most leading trucking brands, giving a relatively quick and very efficient electric transformation.
The company – headquartered in Dandenong – has already successfully fitted systems to vehicles made by Isuzu, Mercedes-Benz, Hino, Iveco and XGW and FAW and is in talks to have the systems included in the factory of one of Japan’s largest commercial vehicle specialists.
Fairweather won’t be drawn on which company, but Isuzu has been rumoured to be in the frame.
“There’s no doubt the revolution is here, it is occurring now,” Fairweather told The Driven in an interview.
“It is cheaper to buy an electric truck now and within four years you’ve recouped your costs. The economies are definitely there for operators.”
And, he says, he is excited to have the new operation based in the Latrobe Valley, a region that has been suffering from the closure of the Hazelwood coal generator and is further threatened by the closures of its remaining coal plants in the future.
“It’s a great opportunity to do the right thing by the Latrobe Valley. It will also hopefully see us use a range of local components including items like power steering systems, electric meters, air conditioning, and one day it would be good to be using batteries made locally.”
The company’s drivetrain system is called SEA-Drive and it allows OEMs to carry out an electrification program on any platform, at low cost and with a short lead-time to deployment.
The system can be fitted to new or used trucks and Fairweather says developments in battery technology will see costs reducing for OEMs as efficiency of the systems increases rapidly. Already, SEA’s system returns a minimum of 300km between charges and with an inbuilt high voltage charger in the system charging is quick.
SEA is also actively seeking licencing partnerships and has opened offices in Europe to be closer to that continent’s truck manufacturers.
“SEA’s unique technology and business model will allow licencing partnerships to bring global products to the market quicker than with a full development program,” Fairweather says.
“We started six years ago with a view to developing our own electric power system. We have done no marketing. We wanted to get vehicles on the road to prove the benefits, and we’ve done that. We are now working with some of Australia’s largest delivery companies.”
Fairweather says commercial vehicle makers are realising just how disruptive the technology is and are looking at their whole after-market approach to spare parts.
“Whichever way you look at it, this is massive for the whole industry. OEMs are looking at restructuring engine manufacture, it’s that big. This is a massive upheaval and is very disruptive and will lead to large changes.”
And Fairweather says the pace will only pick up.
“The development of batteries is changing very quickly,” he says. “If you buy an electric truck now, after eight years you will be able to simply swap the battery packs for more efficient sets, it’s that easy.”
Fairweather says it’s not only the vehicle industry embracing electric, the drivers love electric vans and trucks too.
“We are finding delivery drivers love driving electric vans and trucks,” he says.
“They don’t get diesel in the cab and there are no fumes. Air conditioning and heating are more efficient because they are instant, they don’t need engine revs to be up to operate efficiently.
“They love the consistency of performance, and the regenerative braking is a positive too. And there are no gears to have to work through.
“The lack of noise is immediate too. We keep the normal ignition key to start but there is a light so the driver knows the engine is on.
“The beauty is, the technology is completely flexible and improving all the time and we have designed our systems so they can be upgraded, both in terms of software and the batteries and control units.”
- Delivery van or commuter bus • SEA-DriveTM 70 • 88kWh battery pack • Range exceeding 300km • Both 3 phase and 240V charging options • 3 year or 100,000km warranty (5 year battery)
- 4.5t to 6.5t GVM Cab/Chassis • SEA-DriveTM 100 • 100kWh battery pack • Range exceeding 300km • Integration capable for 100% electric operation of body ancillaries • 3 year or 100,000km warranty (5 year battery)
- 6.5t to 9t GVM Cab/Chassis • SEA-DriveTM 120a • 132kWh battery pack • Range exceeding 300km • Integration capable for 100% electric operation of body ancillaries • 3 year or 100,000km warranty (5 year battery)
- 9t to 14t GVM Cab/Chassis • SEA-DriveTM 120b • 132kWh battery pack • Range exceeding 300km • Integration capable for 100% electric operation of body ancillaries • 3 year or 100,000km warranty (5 year battery)
- 14t to 23.5t GVM ab/Chassis • SEA-DriveTM 180 • 216kWh battery pack • Range up to 250km • Integration capable for 100% electric operation of body ancillaries • 3 year or 100,000km warranty (5 year battery)
Tony Bosworth writes for www.TheDriven.io and RenewEconomy.com.au. He has 35 years experience in journalism, and has been instrumental in launching and editing several automotive magazines including Which Car? magazine in the UK.