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Homegrown EV LandCruisers get OEM tick

NSW firm set to put factory-backed LandCruiser 70 EV conversions into production

6 Jul 2021

AUSTRALIA’S automotive and electric vehicle (EV) industry looks set to receive a booster shot from a Letter of Intent signed by Toyota Motor Corporation Australia Limited (TMCA) and renewable energy firm VivoPower to supply locally converted electric LandCruisers 70 Series vehicles to fleets around the country.


The physical conversions will be carried out in Australia by Orange-based specialist GB Auto, using kits designed by VivoPower’s EV subsidiary Tembo, for which GB Auto is the exclusive Australian distributor.


In addition, GB Auto has become part of Tembo’s global supply chain, responsible for designing and supplying all the high- and low-voltage- wiring harnesses for LandCruisers converted using Tembo kits. 


The converted LandCruisers will be fully road-legal and ADR approved when they roll out of the conversion facility.


To cater for what could be a seven-year project according to the VivoPower announcement – suggesting how much longer the venerable 70 Series could survive – GB Auto has started ramping up its operations in Orange and expanding its workforce with up to 28 new positions expected to be created if and when the project gets up to full scale.


GB Auto general manager Bill Dunlop told GoAutothe project was certainly an exciting one for the brand and that it was looking forward to working with TMCA.


“At the end of the day, they chose our product,” he said.


“It’s definitely exciting, and people have a lot of faith in the Toyota product and their systems and processes and quality and so on, so it’s fantastic to be aligned with that.


“They’ve chosen the product that we have as the best product to be aligned with Toyota.


“Next stage is to go to a Master Services Agreement for the supply of those battery electric kits – we’re excited obviously because the products that we are already supplying and have trialed with customers, we’re now able to work directly with Toyota on those and build essentially to Toyota standards with their input.”


Mr Dunlop also said that an extended testing program was underway, but stopped short of confirming or denying whether this had been related to the trial being carried out between Toyota and BHP at the latter’s Nickel West mine in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.


Whereas the original vehicles were fitted with 28kWh battery packs, GB Auto will this week be taking delivery of updated conversion kits – still courtesy of Tembo – based around bigger 72kWh batteries that will have a profound effect on the application and range of the converted vehicles.


“It also makes the vehicles a lot more viable for different industry use,” Mr Dunlop said.


Extra viability and versatility is added by the road-legality and ADR compliance of the Tembo vehicles, meaning they won’t just be limited to use underground.


“In mining, a lot of vehicles, especially underground are obviously not registered – if they don’t leave site, there’s no need to be registered,” Mr Dunlop continued.


“But what you find with service operations is that a lot of the fleet are registered because they are used on the surface and then on public roads around (the mine site) and could be used for getting back to camp if you’re in remote areas, or it could be going to town.”


Not only will the Tembo vehicles be road-legal, from GB Auto’s standpoint, they will also be available for purchase by private buyers – although the value of the finished product according to Mr Dunlop will be around the $200,000 mark.


The reason for the high cost is the conversion process; GB Auto purchases complete brand new LandCruiser 70s through Toyota’s dealer network – exactly the same as a private buyer would – and removes everything to do with the internal combustion powertrain before installing the Tembo kit.


Each vehicle takes several weeks to complete, although Mr Dunlop expects that timeframe to shrink once the project is at full capacity.


“You’re not talking about one or two EVs, you’re talking about fleets of hundreds,” he said.


Once the vehicles are complete, GB Auto will have an arsenal of unused surplus V8 diesel engines and parts available, the resale of which will be used to offset some of the costs of the project.


“There’s a very strong market for those unused V8s,” Mr Dunlop said.


“It’s really interesting, the number of people who have called about that – there’s been just a farmer who wants one because he blew one up in his farm ute through to companies that just want a constant stream of them.


“It’s the whole lot, it’s not just an engine or a gearbox, you’re talking everything to do with diesel; all your fuel tanks, every bracket that holds all that stuff in, your exhaust systems, your radiator, your air-con, because it all gets swapped out.”


While the surplus internal combustion parts will be readily available “within reason”, Mr Dunlop specified the project only involves new vehicles and that the brand wasn’t interested in going “backwards” and converting used vehicles.


“They become bespoke builds and they’re just too expensive,” he said.


“If you’ve got to then go and custom-design wiring harnesses and so on for specific models, it’s not really viable.”


Through its relationship with VivoPower, GB Auto is able to offer its fleet clients complete packages and charging solutions rather than just individual EVs.


Chargers (including solar), battery back-ups, micro grids and grid upgrades to cater for the new infrastructure, battery second life programs, training maintenance and support services are all within the realm of possibility, according to Mr Dunlop, who said all of which are tailorable to the specific site and application.


“In Perth you can go and buy yourself a Tesla and might have a charger at home and some super chargers down the road; it’s all there for you,” Mr Dunlop said.


“When you go to a mine site in the Pilbara, obviously none of that’s available, so there’s a lot of thought that has to go into infrastructure to support that.”


Given the Master Services Agreement is yet to be settled upon, it remains to be seen exactly what TMCA’s involvement in the project and vehicle development is beyond the initial vehicle purchase, with a spokesperson telling GoAuto more details would be “announced in due course”.


The brand has made no secret that it will be standing by its LandCruiser 70 for the foreseeable future with the EV conversion project potentially guaranteeing its survival for at least the next five- to seven-year duration of the project announced by Vivopower.

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