Despite the departure of local vehicle manufacturing in Australia, one company is hedging its bets on a surge in demand for electric vehicles and will build a greenfields factory in the southern highlands of NSW, about an hour and a half southwest of Sydney.
Nexport will use established technology from Chinese electric firm BYD to assemble buses and cars on a $700 million 51-hectare site in Moss Vale, according to its CEO Luke Todd, once the plant is complete.
“We'll be building a facility where we'll be producing electric buses for the New South Wales bus fleet and other states, and hopefully an export market as well,” Todd told ABC Radio Illawarra. “We'll also be producing electric trucks and we'll also be doing some engineering work and then moving into a transition of electric cars in Moss Vale.”
The small, leafy town of Moss Vale was chosen over other sites because of its proximity to large urban centres and a seaport, according to Todd.
“I've been working on this project for some time, close to four years, myself, and talking with Infrastructure New South Wales on and off for close to three years, about the ideal site,” he said.
“We've always wanted to not do it in Sydney or in some of the built-up areas, such as Western Sydney. We've always wanted to move to somewhere regional. And we looked everywhere across the state and looked at various places - Parkes, Dubbo, and even Nowra. But what we found is that we wanted to make sure that we could have the most impact and not be caught in an area where we were too regional, if there is such a thing.
“So we looked at the Moss Vale area and obviously [there’s] the beautiful residential area, but there was some shoots of industrial activity starting to take place.”
The town is home to several mining engineering firms, and is well serviced by freight rail and road services, including a rail corridor to the seaport at Port Kembla, an hour to the east.
“Some of our products that come in, componentry and so on is very easy to transport,” said Todd. “Then looking on a map we're halfway between Sydney and the ACT. And both are the most progressive in Australia, in regard to electric bus transition. So it just made perfect sense."
Nexport will initially set up a facility in Glendenning in Sydney's west to build buses for the NSW government, before turning the earth on its Moss Vale site in 2021.
The new facility will take five years to complete, which may see Nexport import BYD EVs from China for direct-to-consumer sale in Australia ahead of building its own cars, subject to Australian Design Rule adaptation.
Todd sees an exponential growth in electric vehicles going forward, with the key to success coming by working smarter, not harder.
“The big change is that vehicles going forward are going to be electric vehicles in the main, so that is a massive technology transition from what a combustion engine vehicle was,” he said. “So it's actually intelligent production, where you take the best of your local supply chain and you source as much as you can locally, which is our main goal and strategy.
“Then you take the best technology that you can find from around the world and bring that to Australia. You then produce a vehicle locally that is sustainable and also can be done in a cost-effective manner.”
The company has also imported EVs from BYD to establish an EV taxi fleet in Sydney’s northern suburbs, amongst other projects.