“Electric trucks from SEA are really in a consolidation phase now,” says Joe Di Santo, SEA Electric Sales Director ANZ, who works out of the SEA Electric headquarters in Dandenong in Victoria. “We’ve moved from a research and development business, to one pumping out the same type of product consistently. We are doing production now. The next 12 months will be important for us to keep refining the process.
“We have got the product quality where we want it. It’s more about production time now. Instead of taking three months to build a vehicle, it needs to be three weeks. That will help when we are setting up the Latrobe Valley assembly plant, as well.
“The other priority is securing other original equipment manufacturing organisations. We want to remain agnostic about the vehicle, and have these OEMs wanting us to convert their vehicles. We know that in seven years time they will have their own electric trucks.
“This window of opportunity does two or three things, if we don’t become their long-term provider, and there’s a chance that we could be, there are opportunities coming to us every day to convert old trucks. What are you going to do with a diesel truck in ten years time?”
SEA is looking beyond the point where the electric truck is ubiquitous and expecting the market for conversions to continue apace.
Global Development and Future Electric Trucks from SEA
For SEA the Australian market is unique. Elsewhere in the world, truck makers are buying the company’s kit to convert an existing truck or to fit in a truck they are building.
Currently, SEA is active in New Zealand with a sales and servicing presence supporting existing trucks and selling new ones. There is government support in terms of a subsidy (often over $50,000) to encourage electric vehicles.
There is an operation in Thailand supporting a few projects. Here, vehicle manufacturers are looking at the SEA drivetrain to be fitted in vehicles on the assembly line. The company is developing its presence in Europe, but says it is currently in a fact finding stage, working out where the demand for a plug and play electric driveline may grow.
The US is the region where the company has made considerable headway. The SEA founder and CEO, Tony Fairweather, has relocated to North America to support the company’s efforts in the region. The team in the US is working with vehicle manufacturers to sell electric drivetrains for inclusion in their vehicles. Electric buyers can receive up to 80 per cent off the price though government grants to improve air quality.
“We always think we are behind the eight ball, here in Australia,” says Joe. “”But then we built the UPS delivery van with our driveline for the US market. We built it for Ford in the US and last year went to a truck show with our driveline on the stand. All of our potential competitors came and had a look at our set-up.
“While we have all of the motor and batteries within the chassis, all of our competitors had batteries where the fuel tanks used to be. All of them told us that inside the chassis was the best place to fit them. It was a real shot in the arm for our confidence.”
Unlike many electric trucks, the SEA doesn’t use cooling for the batteries, only for the motor. Many manufacturers are using more sophisticated batteries, but often these require extra cooling.
The possibility in Australia of some form of government help for anyone buying an electric truck is not on the horizon. In fact, if the numbers of electric trucks start to ramp up steeply, the government will be looking at decreasing revenues from fuel excise.
There will be time for the government to fumble their way through this issue and would be expecting the long mooted mass/distance/location charging scheme to come into its own and end a connection with fuel sales.
There is a clear change going on in corporate Australia, moving well ahead of the federal government in terms of environmental efforts to reduce climate change. this is likely to be the impetus for change and a move to increase electric power sales. There is the potential for the big players to gain credibility for their climate change positions, by buying electric transport.
Finance companies were originally skeptical about offering their services to those buying electric trucks, but there has been a cultural change as the concept has gained credibility and the prospect of demand for electric trucks into the future.