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Auto engineers see way forward for industry
SAE-A details plan for specialty vehicles to regenerate local manufacturing, exports
25 Jun 2020
By NEIL DOWLING
AUSTRALIA could have a range of specialist electric vehicles in production within a decade under a concept by the nation’s leading automotive engineering society to form a collaboration of local engineers and hi-tech component manufacturers.
The Society of Automotive Engineers – Australasia (SAE-A), the peak Asia-Pacific body for mobility engineers, said the idea follows the theme of the 1998 and 2000 aXcess concept cars that were built to showcase the capability of Australia’s automotive designers, engineers and component manufacturers to global automotive companies.
SAE-A spokesman Greg Shoemark said the aXcess cars – first a four-door with an Orbital two-stroke engine and the second a low-emission hybrid using an onboard generator – generated considerable interest and an estimated $1.25 billion dollars in export sales for local manufacturers.
This week, the SAE-A has released a fresh blueprint based around a modular platform, electrified powertrain, advanced composite components and autonomous driving systems – and represented by a design sketch showing a “21st century police car”.
“The response to our publicly showing the concept EV police car that could be built here has been huge,” Mr Shoemark said.
“We knew there’s enough car industry capability left after the closure of Toyota, Holden and Ford to make a project like this viable.
“The next step is to begin a feasibility study.”
Mr Shoemark said half of the 130 companies that contributed to the aXcess projects were still in business and hoped they would become involved.
“We now want to recruit members to help foster the project,” he said.
SAE-A chairman and CEO Adrian Feeney said the proposal is for the manufacture of specialist vehicles with different bodyshells to fulfil tasks in the utility and service industries.
The SAE-A proposal’s first company on board is transportation design firm Delineate which has clients including Tesla, Google, Honda, Ford and Nissan.
Mr Feeney said Delineate came up with “a blue-sky imagining of what a 21st century police car might look like as a first step towards a commercially viable real-world vehicle”.
The police car could be an EV with autonomous functions and made in a modular design from composite materials.
“COVID-19 has shown the importance of car manufacturing, and we propose to start with a car that no other country could build,” Mr Feeney said.
“We would design it at the cutting edge of near-horizon technology, and we would build it in the medium volumes which Australia has always excelled in.
“So what would it look like? It would be electric, substantially autonomous, built of advanced composites and made in a total volume of 50,000 to 100,000 per year.
“It would be a modular family of specialist vehicles for world markets – imagine a police car, an ambulance, perhaps even a light military vehicle all off the same platform.”
Mr Shoemark said the SAE-A does not have any intention to manufacture the vehicle.
“Our concern is to represent the interests of our members. By fostering this project, we are doing exactly that,” he said.
“If we could be the motivation in these early stages to get a venture underway, then that can only be good for Australia and our industry.”
He said a key advantage of the proposal is that the manufacturing techniques proposed are completely different to the traditional car-making plants.
“So it would be low-volume production using new techniques,” he said.
“Australia has considerable experience in low-volume composite vehicle manufacture, such as the 40,000 bodies built in fibreglass by Bolwell Corporation for Kenworth trucks.
“We would also not consider a dual-cab ute, for example, because we then compete with huge companies like Toyota and Ford.
“But a specialist vehicle range like a police car and an ambulance are plausible. Look at the Thales production which specialises in building the Hawkei military vehicle in Bendigo.
“A police vehicle would be a ground-up design specifically for the exact needs of the police forces. It allows Australia to build a vehicle precisely to a purpose, rather than taking existing vehicles and adapting it.”
Mr Feeney said Australia’s car industry had long enjoyed medium-volume manufacturing technologies unimagined by European, American and Asian manufacturers.
“Global manufacturers were amazed at how their local subsidiaries could build 50,000 cars with the same quality and efficiency as overseas plants with 10 times the output,” he said.
“If we move now to harness our engineering brainpower while we still have it, we can design and develop the cars of the future and we have the factories to build them.
“The time is right to put money and political will behind our engineers and our manufacturers and rebuild a specialist car industry that can be the envy of the world.”
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