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Electric cars spark interest for young female mechanics

It may be a classic Range Rover but one vehicle at Australia's biggest electric car show is being overhauled in a unusual way by an unexpected team of mechanics.

Girls at the Bendigo Tech School showed off progress on their electric conversion of the iconic four-wheel drive at Sydney's Fully Charged event on Sunday, with its frame stripped back and painted bold green, and a Tesla motor replacing a bulky petrol engine.

Project assistant Imani Dunne, 18, said the vehicle was now as little as five months away from complete and, perhaps more tellingly, had already inspired girls working on it to enter the automotive industry.

The school's Girls in STEAM project, which began in 2021 with a donation from a local gold mining company, has seen more than 20 girls from Bendigo schools work to convert the Range Rover from a classic petrol car to electric four-wheel drive.

Ms Dunne, who discovered the project while taking her own four-wheel drive to a mechanic, said its transformation had been complicated and exacting, with the team learning about everything from metal fabrication to wiring.

"This was actually just a really rusty shell - it looked like cheese," she said.

"We've done rust repairs, painted it, changed the chassis so it fits the engine, done the drift shafts, diffs, and we got the original dashboard fixed and recoloured."

The young mechanics also worked with Australian automotive partners, including Zero EV to find an electric motor, Fellten on mounts for the motor, and Hattam Street Tyre and Mechanical to assemble the chassis.

But more than creating an electric car, Ms Dunne said the project had already encouraged two girls to pursue a career as a mechanic, another to consider becoming a fabricator, while she planned to study civil engineering.

"The one thing I can't say enough about this project is how good it is for girls' self-esteem," she said.

"Guys try something and if they're not good at it they go 'oh well, I had a crack'. If a girl tries something and she doesn't do well she goes 'I don't like anything in that field'."

Bendigo Tech School director Graeme Wiggins said the project was created to "get young women into engineering and trade pathways to address that under representation in the industry".

"What they're getting out of it is incredible confidence," he said.

"They're developing skills and they're also developing a passion for electrification, for what we see as the future of manufacturing in this country now that (traditional) automotive manufacturing is finished."

Mr Wiggins said the project was also designed to start a conversation about electric vehicles in regional areas.

The finished Range Rover will stay in Bendigo, he said, and be made available to rent in order to raise funds for the school's next project.