There's a grand plan afoot to bring automotive manufacturing back to Australia, with the announcement of a new $700 million facility in New South Wales dedicated solely to the local production of electric cars.
The facility will be owned and operated by Nexport, an electric bus company launched in 2018 that's currently working to assist the NSW government with its plans to electrify the state's 8000-strong public bus fleet.
The zero emissions facility is set to be erected on a 51-hectare site in Moss Vale in the state's Southern Highlands, and funding has been secured via the investment group TrueGreen, a majority owner of Nexport that also operates a portfolio of other 'CleanTech' companies.
The move comes after Nexport was appointed to the NSW government's public bus procurement panel, with a request to supply the largest proportion of the government's electric bus orders – and now the company is hoping to seize the opportunity to localise its operations and support Australian suppliers.
Currently, Nexport runs its assembly operations out of Malaysia using parts sourced from Switzerland, but wants its next batch of electric buses to be made Down Under utilising a mixture of local parts and overseas technologies.
As such, Nexport has acquired several of the companies that formed its overseas supply chain and has plans to bring them to Australia, while sourcing as many components as possible from suppliers here.
"We need intelligent production in Australia – if we go back to the old ways, demanding every component needs to be Australian, we will fail," TrueGreen CEO and Nexport managing director Luke Todd told CarAdvice.
"There are certain technologies that it doesn't make sense to produce locally, so if we source those components overseas but then source things like the aluminium or the seats locally, we can make sure we use 80-90 per cent of local content but do it in an intelligent, sustainable way."
Above: TrueGreen and Nexport's Luke Todd.
Described as an "advanced manufacturing base and eco village", the new site is expected to generate more than 2000 new jobs over the next five years, with plans to have it fully up and running by the end of 2021.
In the meantime, Mr Todd said Nexport already owns and runs an "interim" facility in NSW that will be used for production until the new site is functional.
The first production priority for the new site will be electric buses, but Nexport is also deep into the development of the first Australian-made fully electric ute, which will use a modular platform that can also be applied to other light commercial vehicles and, eventually, passenger cars.
Nexport is also in partnership with Chinese electric car manufacturer BYD, which supplies Nexport with its power units for the electric buses, and the two companies have a five-year plan to import BYD vehicles to Australia, with Nexport carrying out any required engineering upgrades locally.
The BYD cars will be sold exclusively in Australia through Nexport's online electric car sales platform, EV Direct, which launches in December this year.
Mr Todd said Australian consumers could expect to see BYD vehicles available on EV Direct roughly six months from its launch, but Nexport is looking for expressions of interest from consumers as to the other electric vehicle brands they'd like to see offered in Australia.
"For many of these companies, it's not viable for them to set up the infrastructure and operations in Australia, so we want to be a behind-the-scenes turn-key solution for that," Mr Todd explained.
"We will set up the sales capability, the warehousing, the logistics, the engineering upgrades, the ADR compliance, so for companies like [electric car startup] Rivian or whoever it may be, we will be their entrypoint to Australia – we can release their products via the one stop shop that is EV Direct."