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Electric vehicle company lights up in Melbourne
Chinese company claims battery breakthrough that enables bus exports from Australia
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2 Nov 2015
By IAN PORTER
A Chinese-owned company has been established in Australia to build an array of vehicles, initially buses, powered by an advanced lithium-ion battery claimed to have significantly better energy density than existing designs.
The company, Brighsun New Energy Pty Ltd, has outlined plans to start producing electric buses here early in 2016, and claims to have secured significant orders for buses to be exported to China.
It is currently looking for suitable premises, but has found that none of the sites used by Holden, Ford and Toyota will be available after those companies cease car manufacture.
The company is planning to make a portfolio of vehicles, including buses, trucks, cars, light rail vehicles and even marine products.
Explaining the unusual plan to export back to China, Australian chief executive Allen Saylav said Australia had some advantages.
“We chose Australia because Australia is going to be losing three of the major automotive manufacturers, and there will be available resources for us,” he said.
“The resources will be people, the market and the Government support.”
He said Australia also enjoyed a high reputation in China for setting and maintaining high standards.
“We like the Australian brand. Australia is regarded very well throughout the world, especially our standards. We have the highest standards for automotive regulation throughout the world.
“That will give our product much more credibility, even throughout Europe,” Mr Saylav said.
He drew attention to the side-crash testing requirements under the Australian Design Rules, “requirements which Europe and the USA do not have”.
“In China, when something’s manufactured there, those standards don’t apply and, hence, the product does not have the durability and the quality as what we do.”
At the launch, the company released the results of independent local tests done on its prototype 12.5m long route bus and its touring coach. The tests were done by mechanical engineer Shane Richardson, of Delta-V Experts.
The tests showed that the Brighsun route bus covered 811km on a single change while the touring bus covered 1004kms on a single charge.
Mr Saylav said Australia would be the world headquarters for the Brighsun bus company.
“We already have an office in America, and by 2017 we want to put two manufacturing plants in the USA. We already have one in negotiation in Malaysia, and that’s probably on its way as we speak.
“I’m going there next week to find out how that’s going, and we want to put one in Europe somewhere, probably the Netherlands..”
Brighsun is currently operating out of three Melbourne sites, two in Sunshine and one in Campbellfield, where it is conducting testing and development on four prototype buses.
Brighsun New Energy is a joint venture between the Brighsun Electric Group Company Ltd, founded by its chairman Mr Kejun (Kevin) Huang, and an investment group, Zhejiang Zhixin Holding Company, headed by Mr Genjiang Zhang.
When asked how much capital the company had access to, Mr Saylav said the financial backing behind the company was “immense, in the high billions of dollars”.
The perception that Australia was a high-cost country was not as important as the country’s reputation for quality, added Mr Saylav. Although buses will also be made in China, it was planned that Australia would be exporting to markets in Asia, the US and Europe.
“We have taken (Australia’s cost structure) into consideration, but what we can produce out of China and what we can produce in Australia will have vast difference in quality management systems and the credibility,” he said.
“The credibility will outweigh the manufacturing costs for us.”
He said Brighsun already held orders for electric buses to be exported back to China.
“We actually have orders to export back to China as we sit here now, in very high volumes. China themselves want the quality back in their country.
“We have received 300 orders from the local Government where we are manufacturing, and we have received a further 1500 orders from Macau.”
Mr Saylav said the Brighsun group had recently received a grant of 12.7 billion Renminbi ($A2.82 billion) from the Chinese Government to expand its battery plant from one production to 100 lines.
That will lift weekly battery output from enough to power 15 buses to enough for 1500 buses a week.
Mr Saylav said the partners had established a 40,000 square metre bus factory a year ago, and it was currently producing 25 a week.
The aggressive business plan is based on a breakthrough in the energy density of Brighsun’s batteries.
Mr Saylav said Mr Huang had developed a new anode material for lithium-ion batteries that gave five times the amperage hours of the world’s best battery at the moment.
“With our batteries, with the technology we have using the material we have for the anode, we only need a small volume of electrolyte to excite it and the rest of it is all done through the anode and cathode galvanization processes,” he explained.
He said the cathode material used, titanate, was well known in the battery business.
In order to get production up and running quickly, Mr Saylav said the plan was to import batteries and the company’s own electric motors and to install them in unitary bodies built in Australia.
This will be different to virtually all other buses made in Australia, which have a body superstructure built onto an imported diesel-powered chassis.
“By four months we will be fully manufacturing. We can import straight away and actually start manufacturing the assembly straight away,” he said.
“It may sound daunting, but it’s really not.”
He said the group got things done quickly in China when it was building the 40,000 square metre bus plant.
“They were told that it couldn’t be done in 12 months. The contracting company said they could do it in six months and Kevin said “you will do it in three months, and you will be paid accordingly”.
“As quick as we can get our facility set up here, we will be manufacturing fully here.”
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