Amp­ing up the mar­ket

Aus­tralia’s elec­tric truck fu­ture is on a city road to be­ing re­alised

Australian Transport News - - Forward Vision -

hat is it with the first two decades of re­cent cen­turies? Per­haps it’s all that pent-up ex­pec­ta­tion of new dawns and progress and ad­vance­ment in fine fash­ion has cre­ative juices flow­ing.

It is in­struc­tive to note that the first 20 years of the 19th cen­tury kicked off with Count Alessan­dro Volta in­vent­ing the bat­tery and putting his name to the mea­sure­ment of elec­tro­mo­tive force. Here we are, 200-plus years later, and its use on high­ways, promised for so long, is now as­sured.

Ten years later, the first steam lo­co­mo­tive, Richard Tre­vithick’s, failed due to weight, only for Ge­orge Stephen­son to make the mode hap­pen. A bit fur­ther be­yond the first two decades, an­other item to be­come a fea­ture of lo­gis­tics un­der­tak­ings, the elec­tro­mag­net came into be­ing.

Fast-for­ward a cen­tury and, with a lit­tle cheat­ing, we can rope in Ru­dolf Diesel, who re­ceived patent #608,845 for an “in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine” that bears his name to­day and, though be­ing chal­lenged force­fully, that en­gine has life in it for quite a while yet. (Oh, al­right, Diesel ac­tu­ally in­vented the “in­fer­nal com­bus­tion en­gine” six years ear­lier but, then, Volta had worked out us­ing met­als to cre­ate cur­rents in 1792. These things have roots!)

Wind­screen wipers aren’t that much dif­fer­ent now from what US poly­math Mary An­der­son put to­gether in 1903 and the elec­tri­cal ig­ni­tion sys­tem sur­faced In Charles “Boss” Kit­ter­ing’s work­shop eight years later.

Oh, and to stretch this ex­er­cise just that tiny bit, again, Czech writer Josef Čapek is cred­ited with coin­ing the term “robot” in 2021.

Some count the num­ber of truck man­u­fac­tur­ers in the world by then in four fig­ures. Wikipedia, which has its crit­ics, counts the to­tal num­ber of truck­mak­ers ever at about 370: Europe 197, Asia 74, the US 74, South Amer­ica 1, Africa 9 and Ocea­nia 14. We would add “at least” to those num­bers.

The first two decades of the 21st cen­tury can’t hope to match any of these fig­ures but it would be safe to say there has never been such an in­fu­sion of new com­peti­tors look­ing to dis­rupt the diesel truck mar­ket with elec­tric propul­sion.

Names barely ut­tered in 2001 are on ev­ery­one’s lips as we look to 2020. And Aus­tralia is also mak­ing its move.

In no small part, this is down to those in­volved with SEA Elec­tric, and, ear­lier, Smith Elec­tric Ve­hi­cles, who did the hard yards in this coun­try and took in the lessons that needed to be learnt.

Last year, SEA caught the imag­i­na­tion with nine test ve­hi­cles placed with Kings Trans­port in Mel­bourne for ur­ban de­liv­ery uses — for now, e-trucks’ nat­u­ral Aus­tralian habi­tat. This May, it took an­other huge step, help­ing Isuzu Aus­tralia Ltd (IAL) press ahead with real-world test­ing aimed at break­ing new ground for the make glob­ally.

When new IAL man­ag­ing di­rec­tor and CEO Hiroko Yaguchi ar­rived a year ago, she could have been ex­cused for won­der­ing where this is all go­ing but

ATN de­tected a note of sat­is­fac­tion and per­haps ex­cite­ment with the progress at the pub­lic launch event.

IAL will be thor­ough in its test­ing and it might not be too much to say that if its tilt fails, that will rep­re­sent a sig­nif­i­cant speed-bump for elec­tric propul­sion here. Still, it’s hard to imag­ine IAL com­ing this far with­out it hav­ing con­fi­dence in the con­cept.

The world has come a long way since Smith Elec­tric Ve­hi­cles’ British milk float car­ried many of the hopes of elec­tric ve­hi­cles’ fu­ture dur­ing the lean times in the mid­dle of the last cen­tury, when King Diesel floored all be­fore it.

It is fit­ting we get here through barely two de­grees of sep­a­ra­tion from that hum­ble con­veyance.

“Names barely ut­tered in 2001 are on ev­ery­one’s lips as we look to 2020.”

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