None of Australia’s top-selling utes come with with an electric option from the factory, despite growing demand for battery-powered workhorses from the mining sector in particular.

    This has prompted the creation at least two Australian conversion companies pledging to convert thousands of existing Toyota HiLux diesels into electric cars – in lieu of such action from the brand that originally builds them.

    One of these companies is called Roev, founded by Atlassian executives Noah Wasmer, Paul Slade and Robert Dietz. It plans to convert more than 1000 diesel HiLuxes to electric in its first 12 months of production, with vehicles slated to be available from February 2024.

    “More than half” of this allocation is set to be snapped up by Perth-based electric vehicle leasing, rental and subscription company CarBon, “to supply commercial fleet operators eager to transition to zero emissions transport”.

    CarBon recently discussed a pending pilot program in Western Australia’s northwest – home to the mineral-rich, scorching hot Pilbara – where it says “several resources companies” will implement the vehicles into their operations.

    “There is huge demand for light commercial EVs in Australia, particularly in the fleet market where businesses are racing to decarbonise,” said ROEV co-founder Mr Wasmer.

    “Electric conversions provide an additional option to accelerate this transition and we’ve been working very closely with fleets to ensure the vehicles out-perform expectations,” he said.

    The electrified Roev HiLuxes lose the diesel engine and running gear and get a 64kWh battery with 240km of range, or a 96kWh battery with 360km range, can be charged at 80kW DC or 11kW AC, have V2L capability and regenerative braking, and either 4×2 or 4×4.

    The Roev conversions are expected to cost between $47,990 and $57,990 on top of the donor vehicle price – though it points out many of these donor HiLuxes will be existing vehicles that have already depreciated and been used.

    The company only converts donor HiLuxes with five-star ANCAP ratings and says its manufacturing operation is ISO 9001 complaint and validated to ADR protocols.

    “Organisations across the board are facing increasing pressure to transition their light commercial fleets to meet ESG targets, but until now there hasn’t been a 4×4 electric ute available,” said CarBon founder and CEO Scott Gillespie.

    “… The HiLux is Australia’s best-selling ute and every converted Roev 4×4 Electric HiLux has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions by over 100 tonnes through its usable lifespan,” he added.

    The partnership between Roev and CarBon to supply the mining sector with electric versions of their preferred workhorse looks rather like a similar project from another Australian-based company called MEVCO.

    Mevco earlier this year detailed a project to turn 8500 new or near-new HiLux and LandCruiser diesels into zero-tailpipe-emissions electric cars over the next five years.

    The near billion-dollar deal is designed to capitalise on demand from the resources sector for battery-powered workhorses that’ll do the job in some of the world’s toughest conditions.

    “[We have] 5000 on order right now from the mining space, from one week in Perth doing drives with 44 mining companies. We’ve stopped taking orders,” MEVCO chief Matt Cahir told CarExpert earlier in 2023.

    This includes big mining companies focusing on lithium and nickel for export into EV battery material. The first client is Mineral Resources, which operates two of the world’s biggest hard-rock lithium mines.

    MEVCO isn’t responsible for the engineering, but has instead done a deal with Australian-based (and globally renowned) electric commercial vehicle converter SEA Electric to fit its proprietary electric drivetrain.

    SEA already creates electric Hino trucks and recently inked a deal with iconic truck-maker Mack. It even ‘re-powers’ iconic yellow American school buses for that market. Its EV driveline is transferrable and the battery can be repurposed as stationary storage later on, paired to on-site solar arrays.

    Additional development work on the MEVCO HiLux EV is being done by GB Auto Group based in regional New South Wales to make sure the EV driveline works as intended.

    While finding thousands of donor HiLuxes isn’t easy, working in the project’s favour is the fact many mining companies have a bank of vehicles on order. MEVCO says it’s buying up as many as it can from dealers, so long as they’re under 12 months old.

    One take-away from all this is clear: While Australia is stuck in the slow lane when it comes to proliferation of EV workhorses, the private sector is plugging the gap.

    Right now the only electric ute on sale from its OEM is the 4×2 LDV eT60, which costs an eyebrow-raising $92,990 before on-road costs.

    “There is an undoubted appetite for commercial application EVs,” claims LDV’s general manager Dinesh Chinnappa.

    “These Australian businesses know the eT60 isn’t going to cross Nullarbor – but that its 330km range is more than adequate for their everyday requirements.

    “But they also know government EV policy and EV infrastructure is on the move and they want to be ahead of the transition. And the LDV eT60, Australia’s first electric ute, is here to help.”

    While there is no factory-original HiLux EV, Toyota Australia has confirmed 48-volt mild-hybrid technology is coming to the HiLux diesel in the first half of 2024, flagging 10 per cent better fuel efficiency.

    MORE: Mining companies are desperate for electric Toyota HiLuxes
    MORE: Roev’s electric HiLux and Ranger conversions priced and detailed

    Mike Costello
    Mike Costello is a Senior Contributor at CarExpert.
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