ACE PLAYS ITS CARD | Van Review – Ace Cargo

Delivery’s Stuart Martin takes his first drive in the ACE Cargo 

A small electric delivery van is showing that automotive manufacturing in Australia may have taken a beating, but the industry is far from dead.

While the major global brands no longer build vehicles here, smaller niche operations are taking the industry in a new direction.

Adelaide-based Aldom Motor Body Builders has been building truck bodies and manufacturing other transport equipment for more than four decades. The company’s expertise in designing, developing and manufacturing unique solutions for its trailer and bodybuilding customers has now taken a step sideways in diversification, having formed a new division to build electric vehicles in partnership with the Australian Clean Energy Electric Vehicle Group (ACE EV), starting with the ACE Cargo.

The project, more than four years in the making, will get underway with Aldom assembling the vehicles from imported flat-packs until a proper manufacturing facility is established.

As the initial production run, just 100 vehicles are on offer for people to reserve this year, with a longer-term aim of building 15,000 by 2025.

ACE-EV managing director Greg McGarvie said the order books are open.

“We’ve got five spoken for, people can reserve the car and get an order position down the track. If they’re happy with it they can go ahead and pay a deposit on one of the first 100 for 2019,” he said.

Pricing is expected to be about $40,000, with the battery alone accounting for almost half of that cost. This gets the standard 30kWh model, which feeds a 325-Volt electric motor and lays claim to a peak power of 45 kW and 174 Nm of torque, all of which is air cooled.

A range of around 200 km depends on how much of the 500 kg payload is being used, as well as the amount of regeneration coming from its four-wheel disc brake system.

The company claims the $19,000 battery could run a house for two and a half days and potentially has a 30-year lifespan. It sees at least five years of life in a car, followed by the further service as a domestic power supply in conjunction with a photovoltaic roof-top panel system.

Mr McGarvie said the vehicle will be covered by a five-year warranty with maintenance monitored by back-to-base diagnostics available to the owner through the company or via a smartphone app.

He complimented the South Australian government for its assistance in putting potential partners together and said the venture is now looking for an investment partner to help inject the multi-million dollar boost the brand now needs to take the next step.

“It’s dictated by funds now. We’ve put in over a million dollars of effort to this point and the only thing we need now is ADR compliance for Australia so we’re looking for an investment partner to assist with that and we’re in business,” he said.

Aldom Motor Body Builders managing director Mark Haig said the project would require him to add as many as 200 more staff and move to larger premises in order to meet the long-term production targets.

“It’s an easy process to put together and we’re looking at more staff when it hits its peak – 300 to 350 staff in total but 200 people is the figure to get to the stage of producing that 15,000 cars by 2025,” he said.

Mr. Haig is keen to involve the existing automotive supplier base in Adelaide as the project develops, aiming for 50 per cent local content.

“My plan is to lay the whole car out and ask them what they can supply, providing the pricing is right,” he said.

“Everything is in line and we need some capital investment to move on, not government money, there’s none of that in this,” Mr. Haig said.

“We’re talking to R&D funds and other businesses. There are people doing outboard motors for boats with this power plant and light trucks are also a possibility.

The OH&S was questioned during the vehicle’s launch but Mr Haig said the carbon-fibre structure of the 1000 kg vehicle claims to being six times stronger than steel.

Mr Haig said the left-hand drive version in China has been tested to a five-star standard but the right-hand drive version has not while ACE boss McGarvie is confident the vehicle will pass ADR and ANCAP standards when tested.

“It’s already built to European standards so we’ve got no issues with it at all,” Mr McGarvie said.

“As it sits it would get a five-star rating. It has airbags to go into it and it’s had two crash tests done. We’re building the vehicle to be compliant to five stars,.”

Mr Haig said it did the equivalent of a third of a day’s work at the Tonsley Park launch but used only two per cent of the battery.

“It’s got the smarts to monitor its battery life so the 200 km range is a conservative figure,” he said.

“We think it’s got a bit more in it than that, but it’s going to be carrying a load as well.”

The ACE-EV prototype cargo van on display at the Tonsley Park launch was available for short chaperoned test drives and showed a tight turning circle and power-steering assistance that made it easy to twirl around.

Its compact size – 3.9 m long, 1.9 m wide and 1.76 m tall – translates into a snug cabin not built for taller occupants, but it’s still feasible for a broad 190 cm driver to get behind the wheel.

Given the rear-wheel drive, left-hand drive van is very much a prototype, it’s far from a rough drive even when it is unladen.

Aldom boss Mark Haig wanted to put the electric drivetrain to the test in something approaching real-world conditions, both laden and unladen and driving up and down hills on a bumpy surface.

Loaded up on the mechanic-turned-MD’s race car trailer, the EV was taken to one of Australia’s oldest motorsport venues, the Collingrove Hillclimb track in the Adelaide Hills.

It’s a steep, twisting ribbon of tarmac of 750 m long, climbing nearly 70 m from the start line to the finish with nine turns and a return road back down the hill to the start.

Heading up through what would otherwise be a good sheep paddock, there are dips, bumps and yumps to test the MacPherson strut front and trailing-arm rear suspension.

Braking and outputs were tested by the inclines with the Cargo needing a solid and sustained prod of the go pedal to climb the first steep section.

The first ascent completed, the EV made its way at a useful pace but nowhere near the 27.25 second record for the climb in competition conditions.

The tight turning circle made easy work of the hairpins while demonstrating an over-assistance for the steering at higher speeds.

“That is one of a number of things that will be tweaked for the production version,” said Mr Haig, but helm aside the cargo van sits nicely on the road and feels remarkably well-sorted for a prototype.

The prototype ACE Cargo completed well over 100 km on the Collingrove climb, demonstrating full throttle applications and harder cornering and braking although minus any regenerative system that will be present on the production model.

The service roads within the Sport Car Club of SA’s property were also used to push the battery range to it limit, but the exercise demonstrated the drivetrain’s potential to complete a full day of metropolitan work on a single overnight charge.

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