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Aussie-run SEA Electric floods light-duty sector

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The Brisbane Truck Show was a watershed moment for SEA Electric. At least, for its venture into the Australian market that is.

The company, now based in Los Angeles but with a manufacturing facility in Melbourne, rolled out six new models, five of which were trucks.

The sixth, was a new president for the Asia-Pacific region in Bill Gillespie, former driving force behind Hino’s recent market acceleration. All of the models were built from glider chassis units purchased from Hino in semi-knocked-down format. Gillespie, of course, was fully built up.

Significantly, the range on display covered weight ratings from 4500 to 22,500kgs GVM, giving the fledgling brand a wider range of electric trucks than any other brand in Australia. 

Customer units were on show as well, underlining the wide array of applications that suit this locally developed and engineered EV solution.

Fortunately, just before the show Big Rigs had a wide-ranging interview with SEA Electric’s founder and owner, Tony Fairweather.

Fairweather is based in the US where the company is already producing trucks in a facility adjoining Hino’s plant in West Virginia (Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River . . .).

Speaking from New York in the middle of a Covid lockdown, Fairweather outlined the nine-year journey that turned an engineer’s musings on electric trucks into reality.

Fairweather had observed a UK company, Smith Electric teetering towards administration with what he felt was a deeply flawed model.

He started formalising his ideas, and after five years of planning, design and development the first SEA Electric truck was released in Australia. Since then, the company has moved to the US, established the first round of funding, commenced SKD manufacturing in the US and Australia, and is aiming its sights on a NASDAQ listing in the not-too-distant future.

Fairweather’s plans revolved around a key vulnerability of existing electric commercial vehicle platforms.

“Thermal management of the battery was the big issue for me,” he said. “Our plan was to deliver a package that was lighter, easier to maintain and able to be upscaled for other weight ranges at the lowest cost.”

SEA Electric says lowest total cost of ownership, lighter tare weight, and a tightly focused duty cycle are its primary assets.

The company has patent approval for its powertrain in six jurisdictions, with another 10, including the US, still in process.

“The patent includes 20 unique claims relating to the management of the powertrain, charging system, and control of ancillaries,” he told us.

Key to the battery pack is a voltage range restricted to between 388 and 450 volts, where no cooling system is required.

“High voltage systems are ineffective without their own cooling and heating system.”

Significantly, the duty cycle Fairweather is aiming at generally involves overnight charging, with adequate time to allow a slow charge.

Fast charging capability requires high voltage, a result of many EV solutions migrating from high performance passenger products.

That’s why, unlike other highly publicised electric truck developers, a SEA Electric truck won’t break any sprint records. It’ll out-accelerate an equivalent diesel truck, but excessive torque is just unnecessary cost as well as extra weight.

In the US, the Hino gliders move to a third-party modification company where the powertrain is fitted. The trucks are then sent out to established Hino dealers across the US.

Here, the company assembles three truck models from SKD packs in its own facility in Melbourne for sale through 12 dealerships.

The SEA Electric development has evolved in a way that marries engineering smarts to proven truck components and existing infrastructure.

If all goes to plan, it looks like delivering the goods for the decade that all-new fuel systems will take to become mainstream.

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