Will ACE-EV Reboot The Australian Car Industry With A $40,000 Electric Van?

Ace electric cargo van review

The ACE Cargo electric van will, fingers-crossed, be made in Adelaide and sell for about $40,000.

The future of road transport is electric.  This is clear from the falling cost of batteries and crystal clear if you’ve ever gotten behind the wheel of an electric car that takes off like a rocket.

Many people who are willing to pay for performance now realise they can get more bang for their buck by zipping around on a battery with wheels, rather than a metal bang box using controlled explosions.  New luxury internal combustion engine cars will soon disappear, and with time and cost reductions, electric vehicles will take over the budget end of the market too.

At the moment, it looks like the millions of electric cars bought in Australia will all be manufactured overseas.  Australia no longer produces a single production line vehicle.  But last week I took a spin in an electric van made by a company that intends to manufacture electric vehicles on a grand scale right here in Adelaide.  ACE-EV wants to reboot Australia’s car industry and build over 20,000 electric vehicles a year.

ACE-EV stands for Australian Clean Energy Electric Vehicle, although I wonder which came first, the name or the acronym?  When I rocked up to test drive their electric cargo van, I thought I’d be giving details of the vehicle’s acceleration, range, and top speed — but it turns out the specifics haven’t been determined yet for their production model.  While I can give some general information, it’s still a work in progress, and I can tell you the information they currently have online is out of date.  The good news is, all the changes are on the upside.  Once they are ready to roll and start producing Australian made electric vehicles, I intend to write about it and give all the final details.

The people at ACE-EV have put a tremendous amount of work into restarting the Australian car industry, and I wish them all the luck in the world.1  But, despite the automotive infrastructure and talent that already exists here, unless the government provides an incentive, it may not go ahead.  I’ll write an article giving all the reasons why manufacturing electric cars in Australia makes good sense — and a few reasons why it doesn’t — soon.  For now, I’ll give an overview of ACE-EV’s plans and my spin in their electric cargo van.

Electric Cars Are The Future — As The Past Shows

I’m guessing most people reading this know the advantages of EVs or electric vehicles, but if you want a refresher the main ones are covered in this clip on an Australian electric car from 1968:

The main benefits mentioned in the video are:

  • Low running cost, and…
  • Low maintenance

The measly amount of maintenance needed is particularly impressive, as all that’s required is to clean the brushes once every 14 or 15 years.  It’s especially impressive as the motor was already 64 years old.  When made right, electric motors can literally last a lifetime.  This is especially true now since electric car motors don’t even have brushes these days.  EVs also now have regenerative braking, so the brake pads are hardly used and last a very long time.

The video doesn’t mention the pants-wetting performance of many modern electric cars, but this was probably due to the boot full of lead-acid batteries.  So they couldn’t get the lead out of its arse.  The owner was pretty confident there would soon be a breakthrough that would render lead-acid batteries obsolete. He expected it would take two years. Instead, it was 42 years before the first mass-produced electric vehicle using a better battery arrived.

3 Models Of ACE-EVs

ACE-EV intends to produce three different vehicle models.  They are:

  • The ACE Cargo — a small electric van.
  • The ACE Yewt — A small electric ute with a terrible name.
  • The ACE Urban — A three-door passenger car.

They will start producing the ACE Cargo first, and the others will follow.

I drove the ACE Cargo and was impressed.  The steering wheel was on the wrong side, but they are going to fix that.  While it’s the sort of detail I might overlook, I’m sure they’re well aware of which side of the steering wheel goes on in this country.

ACE cargo electric van

While the ACE Yewt has a horrible name, remember it could always be worse.  If I were in charge, I’d call it the ACE Whole Utility Vehicle and compared to that Yewt isn’t so bad.  It may be available soon after the production of the ACE Cargo gets underway.

ACE Yewt electric ute

The ACE Urban is a three door passenger car or, for people who use English correctly, a two-door car with a hatch at the back. For it to count as a door people have to pass through it.  If you are passing people through the rear hatch and putting them in the boot, you are breaking Australian road rules and probably several others.  But it’s become the standard way to describe cars, so I suppose there is nothing I can do about it — except complain impotently online, of course.  The ACE Urban may be sold in 2022, although it will depend on pandemics, asteroid strikes, alien invasions, and — worst of all — politics.

ACE Urban electric car

The ACE Cargo In Action

Here’s a little clip of me taking the ACE Cargo for a spin:

If you are wondering why it looks like an Australia Post van, there is a good reason.  Australia Post is interested in using electric vehicles, so this one was loaned to them so they could try it out.  I don’t know which exciting colours will be available.  I don’t even know which unexciting colours they will offer.

If you’re good at telling the difference between left and right, it’s not difficult to spot the steering wheel is on the wrong side for this country.  I am not good at telling the difference between left and right.  I considered telling you a story about how I didn’t realise it was a left-hand drive vehicle until after I had driven it. I decided no one would believe me and ACE-EV would probably be horrified and never let me try out one of their cars again.

ACE Cargo Details

The ACE Cargo was a sweet ride, but it’s not a Tesla, so don’t expect to leave everyone in your dust.  There will be a considerable number of cars you can’t out-drag.  Despite this, I was impressed by its performance.  What I’d read online led me to believe it would feel pretty weak, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Acceleration:  The online specs say it can go from 0-50 km/h in under 7 seconds.  This isn’t great for an electric vehicle, and the fact they gave 0-50 made me think the 0-60 time would be particularly bad.  But despite this, the acceleration felt pretty good to me.  I’ve driven vans that were far less responsive and, while I didn’t drag any other vans, I think at speeds up to 60 km/h it may outperform most small vans on the road.  But, of course, not those souped-up vans with airbrushed sides depicting barbarians and busty ladies.

Top Speed:  The ACE Cargo does not have a high top speed.  If you plan to use an EV to hoon along highways and outrun V8 interceptors, it’s probably not for you.  At the moment the top speed is given is 100 km/h.  However, ACE-EV is looking at increasing this, and there is an excellent chance it will be higher in the production model.  But while it may get faster, there’s still not going to be much it can outrace on a straight.

Range:   The ACE Cargo’s range is given as 150-200 km with a 23.2 kilowatt-hour battery.  But they thought that was a bit piddly and now intend to use a battery pack with 30 kilowatt-hours capacity.  There is also an option for 40 kilowatt-hours or more.  With a 30% larger battery the range would be 194-259 km when the van is carrying a partial load.  Even if the range is only 180 km under real-world conditions, that is still enough to drive for around four hours in traffic, which is more than enough for many businesses doing deliveries.

Payload:  The van can carry two people and up to 500 kg of cargo.   That’s 1,000 tins of beans, 2,500 blocks of chocolate, or 10,867 lumpy chocolate bars.  And if you push the passenger out, you can stack even more beans and chocolate on their seat.

Charging Port:  The charging port is located at the front of the vehicle and is easy to access.  It’s under a small cover, along with a port to refill windscreen wiper fluid.  The little bonnet comes straight off and doesn’t have a hinge.  This seemed odd to me until I realised most people would never need to use it.  There’s no need to check the oil or radiator fluid ’cause it ain’t got none.

Features:  It has all the usual creature comforts, including air conditioning and heating.  There’s also a rear-view camera so you can see if you are going to squash anything when going backwards.

Comfort:  There was plenty of room in the two-seat cabin for two wide people like me.  Very tall people may have a problem, but we’ll have to wait until the production model is available before we’ll know exactly which basketball heroes will fit.  The seats are higher off the ground than in a passenger car but not as high as in a large van, and this makes it easy to get in and out of.  My dad, with his bad back, would appreciate it.  While I didn’t drive far, the ride felt pretty smooth for a commercial van.

Noise:  Being electric it was, of course, very quiet.  So quiet the government is going to require electric vehicles to make a minimum amount of noise when travelling under 20 km/h.

Charging Time

When using a standard household powerpoint each hour of charging should give it at least 17 kilometres of range.  For the 30 kilowatt-hour battery pack, 13 hours should be enough to charge it from empty to full.  This means overnight charging with a regular powerpoint should be fine, as most vehicles are parked for more than 12 hours overnight, and the battery is unlikely to be completely drained.  There will also be faster-charging options available, but we’ll have to wait for solid information on what they’ll be capable of.

Power For Tradies

As an option, the van can have 230 V power outlets which could be used by tradies to run their tools.  By reducing the need for generators, this will make worksites quieter as well as less polluted.  They can also be used by anyone who wants a silent source of electrical energy on wheels, such as street DJs or people who want to deliver pizzas that are warm rather than the cold disks of congealed cheese we receive in the Adelaide Hills.

ACE Cargo electric van payload space

As you can see, there’s a fair bit of space in the back. If I got the power outlet option, I could live in there, provided I used the long diagonal to stretch.  I’ll have to see if they can put solar panels on top for me.

V2G Good To Go

Unlike one electric car company that, in the past at least, dragged their low rolling resistance wheels on this issue, ACE-EV is okay with vehicle-to-grid services where people receive payments for using their electric vehicle batteries to support the grid.  This is called V2G for short.  While not currently available in Australia, with luck it won’t be too long before EV owners are able to receive payments for merely leaving their cars plugged into the grid.  These payments will decrease as the number of electric cars and home and business batteries increase, but could be considerable for early adopters.  If a car provides just 10 kilowatt-hours of energy to the grid during a heatwave, at the current maximum wholesale electricity price, that’s $150.  The faster the vehicle can charge and discharge, the higher the payments will be.

It’s Currently Made In China

The ACE-EV vehicles are currently produced in small numbers in China with the steering wheel on the wrong side.  The plan is to build better versions here with the steering wheel on the correct side.  The one I drove was assembled here but made in China.

The vehicles were designed in Germany and Taiwan.  In the solar industry, we often roll our eyes when people claim something was designed in Germany, as it often just refers to some sketch Fritz Deutschman made in Munich 30 years ago. Still, in this case, it’s the real deal and involves actual modern German automotive expertise.

The Frame Is Carbon Composite Material

Instead of using steel, the frame — or skeleton or chassis or whatever you want to call it — is a carbon composite material that is 2-3 times lighter for the equivalent strength.  It’s a “high strength sandwich-type composite material” that sounds delicious.  It doesn’t look that yummy, but I suppose, with some imagination, you could pretend it was American chocolate…

ACE-EV carbon composit chassis

I can vouch that it is very light because I could lift it.  I know this doesn’t sound impressive on account of how I am so mighty, but people with fewer Neanderthal genes than me should still be able to drag it around without a problem.  This lightweight material is one reason for its claimed high-efficiency.

Besides being light, the material can take more of a knock than a steel frame can and bounce back without damage.  It also provides the following manufacturing advantages.

  • Far fewer components — 17 versus 70.
  • Lower labour costs — Fewer parts that are glued together instead of welded or bolted means less work is required.
  • The cost of moulds and other equipment is far less than what’s needed to start production of a traditional steel frame.
  • Can mix and match parts between models to save costs — If you look at their pictures above, it’s easy to see all three ACE-EV models have similar fronts.

It will apparently take around 18 man-hours (human hours?) to assemble one of these vehicles, compared to around 200 hours for a standard car.  Keeping both upfront and ongoing costs down will be a big help in restarting the Australian automotive industry.

Battery & Motor Made In China

The battery packs, which are the most expensive component, will be imported from China as no lithium batteries are made in this country.  If this changes, AEC-EV will be more than happy to use Australian made batteries.

The motor will also come from China.  They have the world’s largest electric vehicle industry and produce the most EV motors.  Again, ACE-EV would be happy to use Australian made, but they will be imported until they’re produced here and offered at a competitive price.

All Else Could Be Made In Australia

While initial production will use many components made overseas, I’ve been told that — apart from the battery pack and motor — everything else could be sourced in Australia.  While it has been 3 years since Holden produced their last car in Adelaide, there are still plenty of companies producing car parts for spares and overseas sale.  For the most part, they have plenty of capacity to increase production for Australian made electric vehicles.  I think they would be thrilled by car production starting up again in this country.

Battery Warranty

While the details for the warranties of the vehicles and battery packs are yet to be determined, I was told they know the battery pack for the ACE-EV Cargo will last 5-10 years and so it’s likely to have a 5-year warranty.  Replacing a battery pack isn’t a difficult job and an old one can be removed in 10 minutes.  I presume, and hope, that in 5-10 years battery packs will be considerably cheaper and longer-lasting.

Price

While final pricing is yet to be determined, it appears the ACE-EV Cargo will cost around $40,000.  It’s not what I’d call cheap, but it doesn’t compare badly with some conventional small vans on the market and is less than you would pay for an overseas electric van at the moment.  Much less in some cases.

I expect the other two ACE-EV models, the Yewt and Urban, will be offered for a little less than the van.

I won’t attempt to do any complex cost/benefit comparing owning an electric van to a conventional one at the moment, but once details of the production models are available I’d be happy to do that.

Production Possibilities

The plan is to build from 21,000 to 24,000 ACE electric vehicles per year in Adelaide.  They expect a few thousand of these to be sold in Australia.  That’s not a lot considering there were 1,153,111 new vehicles sold here in 2018, so it would only be around one-quarter of one per cent of new car sales.  But small vans aren’t a large segment of the market and they may be conservative in their estimate.

But don’t worry, ACE-EV are not planning to drive the other 19,000 or so vehicles they make into the ocean and create some kind of jetty from Jarvis bay to Kangaroo Island.2  The plan is to sell around half of the remaining production to developed countries that drive on the right side of the road, which is the left.3  This includes New Zealand, the UK, and Japan.

While it may seem odd to send cars to Japan, which is a major car manufacturer, we used to do it all the time.4  The plan for the rest of the production is to produce a stripped-down, cheaper version, without bells and whistles, for sale to poorer countries that drive on the correct side of the road such as India, Indonesia, South Africa, Pakistan, and so on.  These will be sold as a kit and shipped overseas for assembly.  ACE-EV say they can fit six kit vehicles into a 40-foot cargo container.5

Driving side - global map

Countries in blue drive on the left-hand side of the road, while countries in red drive on the stupid side.  While you can’t see it on the map, sometimes in Vladivostok they drive on the left side if they forget what year it is.  (Image: Benjamin D. Esham)

An Autonomous Future

While ACE-EV has no plans to build self-driving cars at the moment, they intend to produce them once the technology goes mainstream.  As an example of their forward thinking, the van I drove is going to Sydney to be fitted out with autonomous driving equipment as a trial.

Timeline

The solar industry has been fortunate when it comes to disruptions caused by the pandemic.  Solar panels and inverters are very standardized and produced across a wide range of locations and countries.  If one manufacturer’s product isn’t available, another can often be substituted without a problem.  Even huge explosions haven’t had large effects on the PV supply chain.  Unfortunately, car production is more complex and the coronavirus has been playing havoc with their schedules.  Or it’s a convenient excuse for the havoc that was already there.  Either way, planning is difficult.

While ACE-EV can’t be certain when production will start, if they start small, ACE-EV could be producing electric vans inside 8 months.  But if they decide to go big then, because setting up a large factory is a more involved process, it may be 12 months before they’re underway.

Subsidy May Be Required

At the moment it’s not clear if ACE-EV will go ahead and restart the Australian car industry.  Without some form of government support, it may not happen.  If you’d like to see cars made in this country again and you’re involved with the purchase of fleet vehicles, I suggest getting in touch with ACE-EV and arranging to buy some, even if it’s only a small number to try them out.  Just a few deals like this could make the difference between Australia regaining a car industry or never again making a mass-produced vehicle.

Footnotes

  1. In the unlikely event my wish comes true, it means that I — Ronald Brakels — will be personally responsible for entirely stripping everyone else in the world of luck.
  2. If they get them to float it would only take about 3,700 to make a pontoon, but if they just mound them up, given that those that aren’t near the top will be crushed, it might take about 100 million.  But if you could stack them perfectly it might only take around 100,000.
  3. There is a decent argument that the right side of the road to drive on is the left because most people’s dominant eye is the right.
  4. Sure, they didn’t get the same respect as Japanese made cars, but they drove them anyway.
  5. Possibly more if they remove the pile of 40 feet first.
About Ronald Brakels

Many years ago now, Ronald Brakels was born in Toowoomba. He first rose to international prominence when his township took up a collection to send him to Japan, which was the furthest they could manage with the money they raised. He became passionately interested in environmental matters upon his return to Australia when the local Mayor met him at the airport and explained it was far too dangerous for him to return to Toowoomba on account of climate change and mutant attack goats. Ronald then moved to a property in the Adelaide Hills where he now lives with his horse, Tonto 23.

Comments

  1. The logo looks awesome 🙂

    Hope they cam make it work here in Adelaide.

  2. I like the sound of these, but if they keep the name Yewt they’ll have to knock another 20% off the price to sell any.

    And I like the idea of having clappers in your motor. Is this the origin of “going like the clappers”?

    However, I’m shocked at the idea of spending 4 shillings to drive 140 miles. Farka maraka! I can handle the conversion from miles to kilometers, but do they have any idea how hard it is to get your hands on shillings nowadays?

    If I can use Kenyan or Ugandan shillings, I’m in. If not, the deal’s off.

    • Joseph King says

      Ask the ShamWow guy for some Richard, he is always shilling stuff on the advert channels.

      I would almost kill for an EV. I nearly had messy pants when Musk announced the Model 3 but they are so expensive here. Saw a price of $78,000 which is way out of my present and future price range.

  3. Americans drive on the right side of the road. We drive on the correct side.

  4. John Mitchell says

    Ronald – that clip from the ABC archives was absolute gold. Some of your best work. Sounds of silence was good too.

    Unfortunately to restart the Aussie car industry we probably need a population of at least 50 million, so unless kangaroos start driving… we’re stuffed.

  5. Alan Gregory says

    “If a car provides just 10 kilowatt-hours of energy to the grid during a heatwave, at the current maximum wholesale electricity price, that’s $150. ”
    Electricity at $15 a unit?

    • Ronald Brakels says

      During critical periods, such as can occur during a heatwave, the wholesale spot price of electricity can reach its maximum cap of $15 per kilowatt-hour. (It can actually go even higher than that but not because of the spot market price. I’d explain how, but I don’t understand it.)

  6. Alan Gregory says

    Incredible. In Tasmania, we pay 30 cents a unit at peak rates.

    • Ronald Brakels says

      This is the wholesale market. The average is around 7 cents, so most of the time it’s quite low. The retail market — homes and businesses — pay more but are protected from the high swings.

  7. Handke Panke says

    This is so ungay…. The electric cars run off coal fired power stations.

    • Ronald Brakels says

      At the moment cars run off petrol and because electric vehicles are more energy efficient and only around 60% of our electricity now comes from coal, they result in lower CO2 emissions. They also result in far lower health effects from pollution, as internal combustion vehicles directly pollute where we live and breathe.

  8. Geoff Miell says

    See Craig Reucassel in a Tesla S drag race a Holden HSV GTSR W1.

    The Holden HSV GTSR W1 reportedly produces 476 g/km of CO2 emissions.
    The Tesla S produces 153 g/km of CO2 emissions utilizing the grid, or zero with renewable energy.
    See: https://twitter.com/ABCTV/status/1295118136937795589

  9. Alan Gregory says

    Your electric car might run on electricity from coal powered generators, but ours, and many others, runs from hydro and solar. Don’t blame the electric car for the shortsightedness of those who push coal.

  10. Sorry to be negative but this vehicle appears to be placed somewhere between niche and golf-cart in the EV market segment. It won’t sell well. It won’t be the future of the EV industry in Australia. It is so far behind that I fail to see the point of even bothering. China are making so many decent EVs that meet all sorts of market expectations these days. Why not invest in importing/assembling something that people will actually buy? If this is all SA/Aust can muster, then we’re in strife. We need to be realistic. With our labour costs as they are in Australia, we can’t be competitive unless we aim for the top end of the market. You won’t get many people to buy one of these inferior vehicles for $40k.

  11. Alan Gregory says

    In what way do you see this as “inferior”?

Speak Your Mind

*

GET THE SOLARQUOTES WEEKLY NEWSLETTER
%d bloggers like this: