Source: Tembo
Source: Tembo

When a photo of a converted electric Landcruiser posted by NSW-based auto electrical group GB Auto to Facebook went viral last week, it was the last thing anybody expected.

The mining industry is a heavy user of diesel vehicles and machinery, so the potential for electric vehicles to assist the industry transition to cleaner technology has been recognised by a number of industry-related companies – but GB Auto didn’t realise it could spark so much interest.

The post has attracted more than 800 shares and more than 1,200 comments, and reached in excess of 340,000 people – not bad for a humble Landcruiser that has had its guts ripped out and replaced with a battery.

GB Auto GM Bill Dunlop sat down with The Driven to explain how the NSW auto electrical group got involved with Landcruiser conversions, and where it is going from here.

By virtue of its work with the mining industry, the NSW group has secured an exclusive deal with Netherlands-based Tembo to help develop and distribute the Dutch company’s converted Landcruiser and Hilux vehicles locally.

Landcruisers, which are hands down the most commonly used vehicles in the mining industry thanks to hardy architecture, present a great deal of potential for the industry, where exposure to particulate pollution from diesel vehicles and machinery is of great concern for workers.

As electric conversions, they offer an easy transition for mining companies from a fleet perspective, says Dunlop.

Speaking with The Driven, Dunlop explains that the fact that the industry already has access to untold numbers of spare parts and dead vehicles lead GB Auto to cut the exclusive deal with Tembo to trial converted Landcruisers in the Australian mining environment.

“The interest comes from the existing fleet, it’s an easy transition from a fleet point of view and availability of spare parts – that’s a big part of it,” says Dunlop.

Additionally, there is the thought that the converted vehicles are easier to integrate into existing fleets due to familiarity.

“All the guys are learning is that its a converted vehicle, there’s no all new driver training,” says Dunlop.

But the desire to move away from diesel is also key.

“It’s not necessarily about climate change – of course that is relevant but the primary driver in the mining industry is around emissions and health,” says Dunlop.

“For the guys that are working underground and driving underground, to be able to provide a zero emission option has been a big winner.”

With two vehicles shipped in from the Netherlands currently being prepared for on-site deployment and another vehicle – that has been bought and stripped locally – GB Auto has set up an offshoot, GB Electric Vehicles, that will in time undertake conversion for the industry here in Australia.

While the standard configurations on Tembo’s website include two options – a 28kWh battery with about 80km of range or a 56kWh battery with about 160km range, these can be adjusted by GB Auto according to site requirements, says Dunlop.

“Configuration is pretty much on a customer basis – it really becomes a balance between range, charge time, weight and power, essentially.”

The third, locally bought vehicle, is the turning point for GB Auto, which has been working with Tembo for the past 12 months.

“The vehicle [that is currently] in the Netherlands, that is an Australian specced vehicle,” says Dunlop.

“We took the existing driveline out and shipped it to the Netherlands because there’s actually a lot of difference between 6 cylinder and 8 cylinder left hand drive and right hand drive markets underneath in terms of chassis strength and 5 star rating and so on,” he says.

With the batteries placed both in the front and the back, the weight distribution does not differ from the combustion version of the vehicle.

GB Auto, which has 30 years experience in auto electrics, has also played a key role in converting the Landcruisers for the RHD drive.

“There’s a lot of wiring that needs to change in terms of the electric drive system, including electric components including air con – all that has to change over,” he says. “That adds a whole other layer to the program.”

Will electric Landcruisers take hold in Australia? Dunlop thinks so.

“Obviously there’s going to be a transition – that transition has to happen, it’s already under way and there are trials overseas,” says Dunlop.

Next week, GB Auto will deploy its current two vehicles for on-site trials, and in a few more weeks will receive the third vehicle for deployment.

Note: This article previously incorrectly stated that the viral post had 30,000 views; it has been corrected to state it had over 340,000 views.

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