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Aussie EV powertrain firm on fast charge forward

SEA Electric sees substantial ongoing growth with local, overseas contracts in works

24 Sep 2019

FLEDGLING Australian electric powertrain specialist SEA Electric has doubled its production volume over the past 12 months and expects significant growth in the years ahead as it continues to expand its footprint on the back of new local and international contracts.


Less than three years since starting commercial operations, the Melbourne-based company now has close to 100 vehicles on the road with one of its SEA-Drive powertrains, and more than 60 employees in Australia and abroad who are developing the technology and forging partnerships with major manufacturers – including Ford Motor Company – as well as automotive suppliers, transport companies and other large organisations.


Financial details and the level of government support remain undisclosed, but GoAuto has learned that year-on-year compound revenue growth to the end of year three will be more than 230 per cent.


Focusing on commercial vans and light and medium trucks, SEA Electric has programs underway in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, South Africa and, perhaps most notably, North America, where it recently sealed a deal with Detroit Chassis in Michigan to integrate the Aussie electric powertrain into Ford’s F-59 stripped chassis and produce a Morgan Olson-sourced walk-in step van for a still-secret “leading package delivery company”.


In an interview with GoAuto last week, SEA Electric’s regional director for Oceania, Glen Walker, said the company was fast approaching the “tipping point” where production would ramp up significantly at its Victorian base in Dandenong South – and at a forthcoming facility in Morwell on the Latrobe Valley coal belt – as well as in overseas markets, where it will licence the technology to the OEM or else supply the powertrain and install it where required.


It is also now set up to work with OEMs on engineering to prototype stage before ultimately licencing the full drivetrain for series production.


Mr Walker said the F-59 chassis that is found in a wide variety of vehicles, from motorhomes and school buses to US Postal Service vehicles and all manner of delivery vans, offered huge potential and that SEA Electric is working closely with development partners Roush, Fontaine and Detroit Chassis “for five Ford models currently identified, in collaboration with Ford Motor Company”.


SEA Electric’s regional director for North America, David Brosky, is also on record as saying the Ford F-59 electric chassis is expected to lead to “substantial follow-on orders from fleet customers within the next six to 12 months”.


“Currently it’s a pilot program, but discussions are ongoing,” Mr Walker said. “It (the chassis) is the foundation for many, many tens of thousands of vehicles in North America, whether they’re the UPS vans or school buses, so it’s a very versatile platform.


“We’ve currently produced one vehicle, and that’s had significant dynamometer testing and scientific testing, and it’s just about to hit the road.”


Mr Walker would not be drawn on specifying the large number of OEMs and other companies with which it is engaged in both R&D and contract negotiations, although it does have local conversion pilot programs in place with Isuzu and Hino, and is also known to be working with Ford, Isuzu and General Motors in the US.


“As much as I would love to share with you who they are, and what they are, (I can’t) – suffice to say we’re very excited about it and they are significant entities in the global automotive supply space,” he said.


“We’re approaching that tipping point where we don’t have to combat market acceptance, and on the other side of that tipping point is significant growth opportunity.


“We have at least doubled our level every year we have been operating, and I see no reason to assume that rate of increase won’t continue at that or even a higher rate.


“The business in growing, and it’s growing quickly.”


SEA Electric has just delivered Australia’s first electric tipper truck to the City of Yarra in Melbourne – developed in partnership with Isuzu Australia – and also last week donated an early prototype delivery truck to the Victorian branch of the Salvation Army’s Salvos Stores, which now stands as the first charity retailer in Australia to have an EV on its national distribution fleet.


Just as city councils offer strong sales potential for SEA, the company’s charitable endeavours will bring broad publicity and kudos and could lead to a supply contract with the Salvos, who are looking to develop an EV strategy, as well as with other organisations.


The company is mainly targeting those which use commercial vehicles for short stop-start delivery runs and back-to-base operations, which can do without an external charging infrastructure.


“We don’t look upon ourselves as an OEM in our own right, even though we have some vehicles where we are, and that was mainly driven out of necessity,” said Mr Walker, noting other prototypes SEA has built based on King Long vans imported from China as “gliders” (sans engine).


“Our preferred way to market in Australia is to be partnering with an OEM, supplying an electrified drivetrain and/or installing an electrified drivetrain.


“But we’re not limiting ourselves to one geography. Our platform is scalable, it’s adaptable, and it’s been designed to be as versatile for the broadest range of platforms we can possibly imagine.


“And by partnering with the OEMs in the relevant country, we’re able to quickly deploy prototype vehicles for them to test and verify.”


SEA Electric is also building its presence, one prototype at a time, with companies that have a large carbon footprint, such as DHL and Ikea in Europe.


“There are organisations that have publicly expressed a desire to lower their carbon footprint and, for many of those organisations, transport is a key part of that,” Mr Walker said.


“And in discussions with those organisations, usually from that will come a (pilot SEA Electric) vehicle – or a small number of vehicles.


“What’s important to focus on is we do not expect those companies to treat us any differently from what they do any other supplier of vehicles.


“Our vehicles have to stand or fall on their application suitability, and on their whole-of-life operating cost, and we’re confident that the whole-of-life operating cost models that we have are true and correct and that they do show a reduced overall total cost of ownership over the first five years.


“And we’re also confident in their application suitability in the sub-23t (GVM) back-to-base each day, 200-250km run.”


Mr Walker also said the EV powertrain can be easily adapted to used vehicles, and that the company was working on the case for retrofitting pre-owned urban delivery vehicles in Australasia and further afield, particularly emerging markets in Asia.


“That is a market that we’re actively exploring at the market, both here and overseas,” he said.

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