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EV start-up SEA aims high with local factory

SEA Electric targets 10 per cent share of van market in 3-5 years with its local EVs

31 Oct 2018

MELBOURNE-BASED company SEA Electric says it plans to take a 10 per cent share of the light-commercial van segment with a delivery van and commuter bus line-up powered by its locally developed and manufactured full-electric powertrain.


The company, which is headquartered in Dandenong in Melbourne’s south-east, yesterday announced that it had secured an undisclosed amount of state government funding to help build a factory in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley that would produce electric powertrains for commercial vans.


The vans are manufactured by King Long in China and imported to Australia without an engine. SEA Electric then fits them with its own electric powertrain.


Speaking with GoAuto, SEA Electric group managing director Tony Fairweather said the company’s sales targets would likely be realised over a three-to-five-year period.


“The volume potential is around the fact that the van/commuter bus market in Australia is around 25,000 new units per year – of which all of them are internal combustion engine and fully imported,” he said.


“And we hope to get around 10 per cent of that market share which would be about 2500 or 2400 units per year.


“Considering that we are the only supplier of electric products and Australian in terms of assembly, and a product that does the job on a lower total cost of ownership in comparison to its competition – and one that is improving – we are pretty confident of being able to get those numbers.


“But over a three-to-five-year journey – we are not going to get those numbers immediately.”


As reported, the company plans to employ up to 500 employees over three-to-five years for the factory in the Latrobe Valley, an area that was hit hard by the closure of the Hazelwood coal-fired power station early last year.


Mr Fairweather said the company was eyeing a site for the 20,000-square-metre factory near Morwell and that it should be signed off by the end of the year. The design process is likely to kick off early in the New Year and the plant is expected to be up and running in 12-18 months.


Ahead of the opening of the Latrobe Valley plant, the vans will also be produced at the Dandenong facility which is also SEA Electric’s research and development hub.


The SEA Electric products will include the E4V van and commuter bus that, according to Mr Fairweather, has a driving range of about 300km.


“We have seen an increase in battery density of 56 per cent over the last 20-month journey of our business,” he said.


The powertrain for the vans – one of five EV systems the company produces – uses a lithium-ion battery pack with 70kWh capacity and an electric motor that produces 134kW of power and 700Nm of torque. Its combined continuous power is 75kW.


It can be charged via an IEC 62196 Mode 3 charging unit in less than four hours.


Resting on a 3720mm wheelbase, the E4V measures 5995mm long, 1880mm wide and 2285mm high, which makes it 615mm longer (and with a 610mm longer wheelbase) than the super long-wheelbase Toyota HiAce van. Both vans share a 1400kg payload.


Mr Fairweather said the pricing of the van and the commuter bus would drop significantly compared with their current price points of $80,000 and $95,000 respectively when production eventually ramps up.


“That is our low volume and current pricing based on battery costs per kilowatt-hour we currently have. With volume and with the future, we expect to knock another 30 per cent off that in the next 12-18 months.


“We will (benefit) from battery cost reductions and component cost reductions in the next 12 months.”


With those calculations, the future price cut should bring the van down to about $55,000, which is not too far off the pricing of the SLWB HiAce that retails from $45,690-$49,260 (plus on-road costs), depending on engine and transmission choice.


SEA is not the first EV van to market, with Renault beating it to the punch with the smaller Kangoo ZE.


A number of other full-electric and plug-in hybrid vans are expected to launch in the next few years, including an EV version of SAIC Motor’s LDV V80, which is already on sale in New Zealand and is under consideration for trial in Australia in partnership with local distributor Ateco Automotive.


Mercedes-Benz is planning to offer the all-electric Sprinter and Vito vans here as soon as series production ramps up overseas around the end of this year, while a host of other car companies have models overseas that could be offered in this market – Volkswagen (with e-Crafter), Ford (with Transit PHEV), Nissan (with e-NV200), Iveco (with Daily Electric), to name just four.


Tesla Motors has also committed to building a cargo van, along with its forthcoming all-electric pick-up and truck models.


Mr Fairweather said he welcomed the competition.


“We have a high expectation that there is going to be some competition coming in soon and we want that to happen so we can compare our technology to theirs. The range of things we have done are fairly unique and we think is going to have a point of difference over OEM technology,” he said.


“One of the most important things we think we have got going for us is we don’t have any of the baggage of internal combustion engine (ICE) manufacturing that the OEMs like Mercedes-Benz have.”


He added that traditional OEMs face massive costs in restructuring their businesses with the transition from ICE to full-electric vehicles, which will impact manufacturing, service centres and dealerships, and other services.


Mr Fairweather said sales would remain a business-to-business model for the time being, given the fleet focus of the van segment, and added that the company would be open to sharing its powertrain technology with other OEMs, should they be interested.


“Our driveline technology is not just for vans but with truck products – we have effectively got five driveline products,” he said.


“The product that is in our E4V is essentially a product that could be readily adapted into an equivalent van product, if one of the importer OEMs wanted to look at our driveline technology to supplement their own. We are open to that. We are very much about expanding our business with electrifying other people’s products as well.”


Mr Fairweather said the company was not developing its EV powertrain technology for use in passenger cars, but added that a pick-up could be an option eventually.


“A ute product we may look at down the track but we are really just pushing up in to the bigger commercial vehicle space as battery costs and weights get smaller.”


As GoAuto has reported, SEA Electric has fitted its powertrains to Isuzu Australia Limited trucks as part of an EV truck pilot program.


Mr Fairweather said the company had hired some engineers from the Formula SAE electric racing competition as well as nabbing some from Ford, Holden and Toyota, which are no longer building vehicles in Australia.


“A lot of our engineers are younger engineers out of Australian universities that have completed the Formula SAE racing program, where they get some early experience because it is all EV-based racing,” he said.


“But we do have some more senior engineers from a couple of the local OEMs and we intend to grab some more in the near future.”

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