Switched on Trucking

Since its inception in 2012, Australian manufacturer SEA Electric has grown a global reputation for its innovative electric power system solutions for commercial vehicles.

In 2017, SEA Electric began performing driveline swaps on existing internal combustion engine (ICE) powered trucks, and now at its immaculate Melbourne facility has moved to fitting its patented SEA-Drive power-system to new Semi Knocked Down (SKD) cab-chassis kits sourced from Hino.

The new range wears the latest SEA Electric badging and branding, complete with its own compliance plate and full three-year factory warranty.

The Hino cabs come fully trimmed and the finished vehicles are almost indiscernible from their parentage.

This move, to series production in Australia, has resulted in SEA Electric becoming the country’s latest OEM, with the trucks available via a nationwide network of established and accredited dealers, and fully backed by a comprehensive aftersales offering including factory warranties and roadside service through NTI Truck Assist.

Australia’s road freight sector accounts for 38 per cent of country’s total transport emissions and electric vehicles are expected to play an increasing role in the journey to net zero by 2050.

Operationally, lower maintenance and running costs are possible with electric trucks, with the cost of consumption of diesel fuel eliminated, and by having fewer moving parts service costs are minimised with SEA Electric scheduling a routine four-hour inspection at a dealer every six months.

Minimal wear on service brakes will be one adjunct reward given the use of the regenerative braking available when the motor is in over-run. Using standard off-peak electricity prices of 15 cents per kWh, SEA Electric says it currently costs around $14 per day to charge from the grid, and even less if solar power is used.

SEA Electric’s own Melbourne facility is now powered by a 100kW rooftop solar power system. Future-proofed with an upgradable plug and play architecture, the SEA-Drive power-system can be charged using 415Volt 3-phase power via the truck’s standard on-board charging equipment, with optional DC fast charging also available.

The fast-charging option enables a charging rate four times faster than standard, and offers range extending top-ups during drivers’ breaks or vehicle loading.

The electric motor used in the passenger licence category SEA 300/45 model delivers an impressive 700Nm of torque and 140kW of power. The larger SEA 500 medium-duty EV truck range is available in either 4×2 or 6×2 axle configurations with a maximum body length of 8,930mm and a GVM range between 15 or 22.5 tonnes.

The drivetrain is currently available in four specifications, ranging from 180HP/700Nm, through to 470HP/3,500Nm, with various battery capacities available between 88kWh and 220kWh.

The initial focus for SEA Electric trucks includes applications associated with municipal and regional local government authorities and includes tippers, garbage compactors and elevated work platforms.

First and last mile delivery operations are a logical target as well and IKEA has been one of the early Australian adopters of SEA Electric trucks. “Many of these large fleets utilise their vehicles for less than half of a 24 hour day.

The balance is spent in depot yards, where rooftop solar panels can generate ample power supply to fully charge their batteries,” says Tony Fairweather, SEA Electric Founder and CEO.

The battery packs are located between the chassis rails to achieve a low centre of gravity and to protect the batteries from accidental damage by items such as bollards or errant forklifts.

During a series of brief test drives two factors stand out when driving the SEA Electric trucks: the outstanding initial torque which is available instantly from start off, and the quietness of the trucks’ operation.

With the windows up and the radio off the only noise discernible is from the air conditioning fan and with the windows wound down the hum of the tyres on the pavement is the most noticeable sound.

Inside the cab the familiar multi-media unit found in most Japanese trucks has been configured to provide additional information including the state of battery charge and the anticipated driving range.

The wand used to operate engine exhaust brakes on diesel models activates the very effective electric retardation which also diverts energy back to the batteries, recharging on the go and extending the range prior to being connected to a charger.

A touch pad is located in the gear lever position to enable the selection of forward and reverse gears.

The move to using knock-down chassis and cab kits from a recognised global manufacturer strengthens the case for SEA Electric vehicles and has enabled the company to concentrate on its patented software system that delivers high torque with low stress similarly to diesel engines in commercial vehicle applications.

“SEA Electric is already in the process of working with our tier one supply base to develop components better suited to our needs from batteries through to charging systems,” says Glen Walker, Vice President, SEA Electric, Asia Pacific Region.

“These co-developments will be increasingly proprietary.” Glen comes from an 18-year career at Kenworth Australia which included roles as Chief Engineer of Kenworth Trucks, and Group Operations and National Sales Manager. He is also a board member of the Australian Electric Vehicle Council. Glen explains the total cost of ownership of an electric vehicle compared to one powered by an internal combustion engine.

“If you pay cash for an EV and cash for an ICE today, the premium for the EV is fully refunded in a little under five years,” Glen says.

“From then on it is profoundly positive. In relation to diesel use, more or less, distance travelled respectively shortens or lengthens this payback period. Alternatively with the appropriate finance package, the vehicle can be cash-flow positive from month one.”

The SEA-Drive power-system had previously been offered to the market as a retrofit option for existing internal combustion engine powered vehicles. The fresh process of assembling the trucks from new results in less wastage, quicker build times and lower costs.

The current Melbourne factory building is being doubled in size and while SEA Electric is well on its way to become an Australian success story, the company firmly has its sights set on global leadership, with a presence now across five continents.

It has already been particularly successful in the United States where its technologies have been adapted to both trucks and buses.

An order was placed in late 2021 for 1,150 EV trucks and SEA Electric has partnered with Midwest Transit Equipment (MTE), one of the largest school bus dealers in the United States, to update 10,000 school buses with battery-electric power-systems, the biggest deal of its kind to date.

Prior to the May Federal election the Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reductions announced a program which will see the additional funding of up to $127.9 million made available to support the integration of electric vehicle technologies into both light and heavy vehicle fleets in Australia.

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