On a farm in the New England region in northern New South Wales, a Toyota Hilux ute rolls into the carport with not so much a growl but a quiet whir.
It’s not a sound one would expect – as Australia’s most popular car, the Toyota Hilux is a versatile, rugged ute that encapsulates this country’s automotive psyche – tough and ready to take on anything.
But this Hilux, driven by Matthew Minter, director of music at PLC Armidale, has been converted to run on an all-electric motor, and as such doesn’t have the associated grumbling one would normally expect from the motor.
The first step in the vision to free himself and his family from dependence on fossil fuels, Matthew’s Hilux still has all the grunt it needs to truck supplies in from town and tackle the hills and slopes of his Armidale property.
It compliments the Minter family’s Nissan Leaf, which between them have now racked up over 100,000km – and all charged on his home’s standard 10 amp wall socket.
What’s more impressive is that Matthew had the Hilux converted to electric way back in 2005, at a time when production electric cars were not yet available anywhere, let alone Australia.
It was the year that the film “Who Killed The Electric Car?” was released into cinemas and one year before Tesla’s first ever Roadster came out.
Living on the M4, the noise and stench of pollution from passing traffic cemented Matthew’s idea to “go electric”.
“It didn’t seem right to me, having all the poison in the air, so I thought there’s got to be a better way,” Matthew tells The Driven.
But buying an electric car at that time wasn’t an option, so conversion it was.
With lithium-ion batteries still in the infancy of commercial production, Matthew was advised that the vehicle he envisioned would need 850kg of lead acid batteries – so a Hilux, that would be able to handle the extra weight of the batteries, was purchased.
With only 15kWh, 45km of range and an incredible amount of stress on the motor, several breakdowns led Matthew to seek out a rebuild in 2012, replacing the lead acid batteries with a considerably smaller payload of 300kg worth of lithium-ion batteries.
“It increased my range to 110km, which was a revolution,” Matthew says laughing.
“It’s also got a 240V power point, so I’ve got a plug-in electric chainsaw to chop up dead trees and provide the wood for the house,” he adds.
He’s still got those early generation li-ion batteries, although they are coming to the end of their life and he plans to replace them soon with more efficient, new generation batteries.
In addition to the Leaf and the Hilux, the Minter family are now also planning to add solar panels and a Tesla battery to their new home on the property – as well as a bidirectional charging system.
“When I’m not using the truck it can power the house, along with the Tesla PowerWall – this is the plan,” Matthew says.
Once the entire system is installed (he plans to do this is multiple steps), his home and vehicle power system will consist of 10-12kW of solar panels, and 45kWh of storage combined, for which he believes the pay back will be 5-6 years.
So far, the EV conversion itself has been an investment in itself – it has cost Matthew $60,000 for the initial conversion and $30,000 for the rebuild.
Though he doesn’t regret it, he does admit he could have done with a little more research in those early days.
“One of the things I’ve learnt in this whole journey is it’s got to work, it’s got to be practical – in the beginning I was so die hard, I would go to the ends of the earth make it work,” he says laughing.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.