If I wanted to be cruel to the Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) manufacturers that I have largely experienced so far, I would say the market is full of gas! The details, literature and evidence being used in the mining focused marketing has been based on data sheets rather than good old-fashioned testing, research and development on these shores.
This isn’t to say that those with models ready for distribution don’t have great machines at their disposal. Rather, that it would be great to learn of advanced trials or engagement with mining businesses in Australia. Factsheets, brochures and manufacturers claims unfortunately don’t beat the ability to inspect, drive and trial in real life.
I was pleasantly surprised then, when a recent addition to my LinkedIn network, Oliver Glockner of Oz Minerals, invited me to test drive an Australian produced BEV in Perth’s lush coastal suburbs. I got back from my swing away on Tuesday and was ready to put the Zero Automotive LandCruiser ZED70 Ti BEV through its paces on Wednesday lunch!
I drove to Floreat, one of Perth’s more affluent coastal suburbs and pulled up at the beach side Deli. Little did I know that there was electric car charging infrastructure in the car park! I was greeted by the gleaming Zero Automotive mine specification Toyota LandCruiser BEV conversion. It wasn’t plugged in but proudly parked in the Electric Vehicle parking bay. Standing out like a sore thumb amongst the high-class European cars that filled the surrounding parking lot!
I had a brief chat with Oliver and then jumped in with a couple of others who had been invited to try out the road legal BEV ute. The starting procedure is quite different to a diesel car in that no starter motor is required, rather a turning on of the drive train. Upon turning the key a near silent low hum lets out from the engine bay.
The modified dash kicks into life and the alternative panels allow you to quickly check the remaining time left until a recharge is required. Other useful details are displayed in clear view for the underground operator of the vehicle. Oliver informed me that all displays had been programmed to be dimmed when in operation, a key feature when operating in the low light underground environment.
Further to this Oliver talked me through the collaborative effort between Zero and Oz Minerals to tailor make the vehicle for purposeful use underground. It was fantastic to hear of the engagement with miners to deliver a product that is ultimately as fit for purpose as possible.
This revolved around several key refinements which started with the battery selection for the safest possible outcome for the confined underground workings. When a battery system was settled on, the gear selection system was reviewed for ease of use in low light conditions. This was one of the largest differences I noted in my first fully electric test drive! The simple waist height circular gear selector, with a simple rotary function between forward and reverse, was well positioned and easy to use – no more clutch, gear changing, or difficult hill starts!
So, what was the drive like I hear you ask? It was smooth and steady off the mark and drove just like a standard diesel ute at standard inner-city speeds. The ZED70 is near silent when being driven this was probably the single most noticeable difference on longer flat roads along the coast.
We then took a right turn up off the coastal road into the hillier terrain of the suburbs behind, as we wanted to try and emulate the 1:7 decline gradient found at most underground mines. The vehicle powered up these with ease. We did find a particularly quiet road and completed a hill start from a stand still. The car did buffer a little when given full throttle from this standing stop. After the initial buffering the vehicle continued smoothly up the gradient. It is worth noting we completed this test again on the flat and a similar buffering occurred. This is a very minor flaw in an otherwise superbly fit for purpose battery electric vehicle and I was assured it would easily be ironed out after further refinement. In summary I was very impressed with the ZED70 Ti and its intuitive modifications to a dashboard most in the Australian underground scene are accustomed to. The driving experience was largely unchanged from the standard diesel V8, other than the lack of requirement for gear change and the significantly reduced noise output.
It is fantastic to see OZ Minerals supporting a local manufacture (Zero Automotive are South Australian based) in a mutual beneficial relationship. This not only allows the ZED70 to be developed for market, it also delivers Oz Minerals the ability to start phasing out their diesel fleet after some further research and development.
I would like to thank Oliver for the invite to test drive the vehicle and Dan for the informative chat when we were at the UGOPS conference later in the month.