Big demand for electric utes in $1bn deal

An Australian company will convert 8,500 diesel utes to electric over the next five years in a deal worth almost $1 billion.

Melbourne-based SEA Australia announced its agreement with mining supplier MEVCO on Wednesday, also revealing the converted Toyota HiLux and LandCruiser vehicles had been so popular that half its 2023 allocation had already sold.

Industry experts called the deal a coup for the Australian firm and said it underlined incredibly high demand for electric utes in the country.

SEA Electric will electrify new Toyota ute bodies at its factory in Dandenong South, initially producing 2,080 electric vehicles a year.

The utes will be fitted with proprietary hardware and batteries with up to 380 kilometres of range that can be charged up to 80 per cent in less than an hour.

SEA Electric chief executive Tony Fairweather said the deal would see more environmentally friendly vehicles take on tasks "that have typically been the domain of diesel-powered engines".

"Across all industries, companies now understand they have a role to play in ensuring they are a part of the solution to the environmental problems we face," he said.

"This deal is a significant step forward in Australia and shows just what is possible when it comes to electrifying the world's fleets."

MEVCO chief executive Matt Cahir said the memorandum of understanding, worth almost $1 billion, would provide vehicles "ideally fit" for use on mine sites.

Australian Electric Vehicle Association president Chris Jones said the announcement again showed incredible demand for electric utes in Australia.

"Everyone wants one and they're used to paying silly prices for utes," he said.

"Converting a ute to an electric vehicle might be expensive - they'll probably work out to being $150,000 per vehicle - but you're looking at paying $120,000 for a ute already."

Electric utes have been slow to arrive in Australia despite high demand, with Chinese automaker LDV launching the first model in the country, the eT60, in November.

While other electric utes had launched overseas, including the Ford F-150 Lightning and Rivian R1T, Mr Jones said local enthusiasts may be forced to convert diesel utes to the new technology to access it.

"There's a window, between now and 2027, where Toyota, Mitsubishi and Volkswagen are not producing an electric ute at a time when Australians are just jonesing (craving) for an electric ute," he said.

"After that, the manufacturers will be in a far better placed to produce a refined product with all the bells and whistles you'd expect in a new car."

The first electric utes produced by SEA Electric for MEVCO are expected to launch in April.