Why an EV 4×4 Conversion is still rather difficult in Australia

So you do see some people online touting the advantages of EV 4×4’s, and they do come with a bucketload of advantages, such as 100% torque from 0RPM, great for towing or pulling people out of bogholes, torque vectoring to each wheel for enhanced traction offroad, and tank turn like is available in vehicles such as the Rivian R1T.

However, at this stage in Australia, an Electric 4×4 conversion, that is, taking a bog stock 4×4 powered by a conventional petrol (gas) or diesel engine, has a lot of issues, and in this article I want to go over some of the issues encountered while researching if this would be a viable project for 4WD DIY to go over.

Step 1: The Donor

Soa good quality donor vehicle is the one you want to start with, there’s a large number of criteria that you need to fit before you can even consider taking on a job of this magnitude, and the biggest starter is the donor vehicle.

EV’s need a few criteria to meet, here are some of the big ones:

  • Carrying Capacity
    • Batteries are heavy, like, really heavy, a Tesla Battery Module comes in at 25.6kg with a voltage of 25.2v and a capacity of 233Ah/5kWh
    • This means that for the correct voltage, you need to be able to output up to 400vAC, with an input of 240-400vDC
    • This means you need 16 modules to get full power to the controller, or in weight terms, that’s around 410kg which is a fair chunk of weight.
  • Physical size of the packs
    • Now the physical size of the packs needs to be taken into consideration, for a Tesla Module, that is 685mm x 300mm x 75mm or 15,412.5 cubic centimetres per modules, which is a lot of underbody real estate. 16 of them would require 246,600 cubic centimetres
  • Range
    • At 16 packs you would get around 80kWh of power, which sounds like a lot when you factor in that the Tesla has 75kWh, 85kWh, 90kWh and 100kWh packs, so 80kWh sits smack bang in the range already being seen by most Teslas
    • However the Tesla is a really really sleek and aerodynamic car, most 4×4’s are not sleek, they’re not aerodynamic, they’re a housebrick with some wheels slapped on, so for a truer comparison you need to look at vehicles such as the Bollinger B1 and B2 or the Rivian R1 models to get a better idea of the types of battery sizes needed for the conversion
    • The Bollinger B1 as an example boasts a 120kWh battery pack and a 200 mile (320km) range, or to put it in more normal terms for the average person, that’s ‭0.375‬kWh/km which doesn’t sound high, but compared to a Tesla Model 3 which can do 402km on 75kWh it has a usage of ‭0.187kWh/km, so the Bollinger is running at 66% less economy than the Tesla, so we’ll use the Bollinger capacity for our maths.
    • This means that considering the shape of the Bollinger will be similar to something like an older Toyota Hilux or Toyota Landcruiser or a GQ Nissan Patrol, you’d be looking at a range out of your 80kWh of around 213km which isn’t all that far if you want to tour, but is pretty good if you’re just running around town
  • External factors that adversely effect consumption
    • Remember, that there are a number of external factors that will adversely affect the consumption, this includes wind, tyre size affecting your final drive, your weight, and numerous other factors.
    • Towing is a big one, a lot of people love to point out that EV’s tow exceptionally well, and they do, having all that torque at 0RPM means that you can easily pull the white off rice, however the extra mass and drag will significantly affect your towing capabilities.

Tesla Model X versus Toyota Landcruiser Towing Test

As an example of how much towing can affect your range, here is a tow test that CarsGuide did between a Tesla Model X and a Toyota Landcruiser, same route, same van, but you can see the results for yourself

So what kind of Donor are we looking at?

Ok, so we now know that we need a fairly aerodynamic vehicle to start off with, as well as somewhere to stick all the batteries, plus the load capacity to carry the batteries.

For our calculations we also will want to carry enough gear for a good day out, such as the Engel to have some beers with us, a little camp stove to cook up lunch on, and our recovery gear, so let’s do up a little chart with some weights, I have picked the below cars semi-randomly because we can find some pretty good numbers on their carrying capacities and weights, both of the car and the accessories

VehiclePayloadAdd Engine /Box WeightMinus Passenger WeightsAdd EV WeightsTotal Weight Remaining for Payload
Toyota Hilux LN106 (3L)1,000kg~300kg2 x 75kg = 150kg410kg Battery + 90Kg Motor = 500kg650kg
Nissan GQ Patrol Ute (TD42)1,326kg~500kg 2 x 75kg = 150kg 410kg Battery + 90Kg Motor = 500kg1,176kg
Toyota Landcruiser Ute (1HZ)1,175kg510kg 2 x 75kg = 150kg 410kg Battery + 90Kg Motor = 500kg‭1,035‬kg
GQ Patrol Wagon (TD42)1,300kg~500kg5 x 75kg = 375kg 410kg Battery + 90Kg Motor = 500kg925kg

Now as you can see, you’re looking at some still fairly decent numbers on payload considering a lot of these old girls had some fairly heavy cast iron engines, but also, you have to remember you are about halving the average range with that kind of conversion with that many batteries, for simplicity’s sake we’re going to go with doubling the batteries would double the range, which although this comes into the laws of diminishing returns, ergo, more weight = more drag = worse power economy, we’re going to assume adding more batteries would mean more range, so you can easily suck that payload up with more batteries if you wanted more range.

You also have to remember that adding things like Bullbars, Side Steps, a decent Tray, etc will all take away from your payload, so 50kg for a bullbar, 50kg for a pair of rock sliders, 100kg for a steel tray, that’s another 200kg you’ve lost off your payload, and then you have the fridge, BBQ, recovery gear, all that stuff needs to go in as well. So you end up with a fairly small payload at the end of the day.

Though a lot of people are running to smaller vehicles such as the Suzuki Jimny, which are practically on the limit of payload with Batteries fitted, as the tiny engines and gearboxes in them are light as hell, at least with the older rigs like a Landcruiser, the old Cast Iron everythig makes for a good weight comparison.

Step 2: The Laws

Oh yes, the laws.

Well, I’m assuming you’re not going to do all this for something that needs to be trailered everywhere? After all this work you want to be able to drive it don’t you?

Under Vehicle Standards Bulletin 14, you will find the sections of NCOP13 Section LV Alternative Power Units V2 and NCOP14 Guidelines Electric Drive V2, these will cover a lot of what you need to do to get this all converted, however that means that you will need an engineer.

Finding an Engineer

This is the lard part, as you will need an Engineer to be able to undertake work with mod codes under possibly all of the following sections:

  • LA2: Performance Engine Installation
  • LA4: Engine Modifications
  • LB1: Transmission Substitution
  • LB2: Rear Axle Substitution
  • LG1: Brake System Conversion (Design)
  • LG2: Brake System Conversion Section
  • LH5: Vehicle Construction (Design)
  • LH6: Vehicle Construction
  • LM1: Fuel Tank Installation Section
  • LO1: ADR Compliance
  • LS3: Front Suspension and Steering Modification (Design)
  • LS4: Front Suspension and Steering Modification
  • LS5: Rear Suspension Modification (Design)
  • LS6: Rear Suspension Modification
  • LT2: Lane Change Manoeuvre Test
  • LT3: Exhaust Emissions – IM240 Test
  • LT4: Noise Test
  • LV1: Installation of Electric Drives in Motor Vehicles
  • LX1: Modification of Light Vehicles to individual approval.

Now you may be able to dodge some of these depending on your design, such as LB2: Rear Axle Substitution, if you are not powering the drive unit directly to the back axle or replacing the axles with electric units, ergo, you mount the drive unit centrally and use it in the same location as a transfer case.

Further you could probably dodge codes LS3: Front Suspension and Steering Modification (Design), LS4: Front Suspension and Steering Modification, LS5: Rear Suspension Modification (Design), LS6: Rear Suspension Modification if you do not need to adjust any of the suspension to carry the load in its new locations (Remembering that the weight won’t sit where it did when the car was powered by a conventional engine), and this may also help you avoid the LT2: Lane Change Manoeuvre Test if you’re not messing with suspension, but really, that kind of work is up to the individual engineer.

Some of the items whilst sounding silly, are actually necessary for proving that the car is no longer powered by a conventional engine, these are your LA2: Performance Engine Installation, LA4: Engine Modifications, LB1: Transmission Substitution, LM1: Fuel Tank Installation Section, LT3: Exhaust Emissions – IM240 Test and your LT4: Noise Test. There’s a very good change that for things like emissions, the car will pass with flying colours, however the laws have not been updated in other sections to account for an engine that does not produce any emissions. So unfortunately, these are red tape tests.

Some of the niggly bits of design

Some of the items covered in the NCOP 13 and NCOP 14 cover items such as security of batteries, and they set some very high safety ratings on batteries, as you can imagine, Lithium Batteries, or any batteries for that matter, are very energy dense and therefore very dangerous in the wrong hands.

Check out this video of a runaway lithium battery fire by the awesome YouTuber RichRebuilds, who has done a lot of work with Electric Cars:

So yes, safety of these things falls a lot into the conversion process, both in terms of battery safety, battery security, and the safety of first responders when they come to an accident.

Step 3: The Cost

Ahh yes, you’re probably wondering why I didn’t cover this earlier, but that was mainly because I wanted to set the scene for where we are at the moment, I thought it best to get some information out of the way first before I smashed you with the costs.

ItemCost
Donor Vehicle~$5,000
Tesla Drive Unit~7,500
Tesla Batteries~2,000 ea or $32,000 total
Misc Components (Chargers, Cabling, etc)~$8,000
Engineering~$5,000
Total$57,500

As you can see, this is not a cheap endeavour, although I calculated prices based off using Tesla parts, as they are some of the most reliable and highest performing parts available, you can find cheaper (Though Heavier) batteries around that could do the job, but you would be trading off weight for price, you also might be able to work out a deal with an Engineer that may save you some time and money. I have seen EV conversions as low as $25,000 at the end of the day, but generally there will be a sacrifice to Range or Weight or Performance as a result.

As an aside, you can check out this video below of Don Incoll’s Land Rover that he converted, and read the blog post we’ve already done on his conversion

Summary

So in Summary, what do we think?

Well, EV 4×4’s are going to be a game changer, you already have a commercially available EV 4×4 based on the Landcruiser in Australia, and that is the Voltra eCruiser, and the company Jaunt is starting to convert a number of old 4×4’s out for renting, kind of like Hertz or Avis, where you can rent an EV 4×4 for the weekend and go on a holiday.

But with some of the EV 4×4’s coming to Australia soon from the biggest manufacturers, that being Bollinger, Rivian and Tesla, we are looking at some pretty hefty figures on the cost of these vehicles:

VehicleCost USDEstimated AUD Cost
Bollinger B1$125,000$181,000
Bollinger B2$125,000 $181,000
Rivian R1S$72,500$105,000
Rivian R1T$69,000$99,900
Tesla Cybertruck$39,900-69,900$57,800-$101,300

Although one thing we will point out, the Bollinger B1, Bollinger B2, Rivian R1S and Rivian R1T are all 4×4 in their base model, the Tesla Cybertruck is only 2WD in the entry level $39,900 USD Base ($57,800 AUD base), for 4WD you’re actually looking at a base of $49,900 USD or $72,300 AUD

Also, we’d like to point out that those prices are not including Stamp Duty, On Roads, GST or any import taxes that may be levied against them. As the market is a bit fluid at the moment, and the actual timeframes for these vehicles reaching Australia is still unknown, we can still be hopeful that the Australian Government may subsidise the cost of purchase and waive some of the taxes on EV sales in Australia like they have done in many states in the USA.

But what about charging? What are those costs?

Oh, yes, I forgot to cover that bit!

To find chargers near you or on any route you might want to take, we suggest you check out the free map available at PlugShare and have a good look at how many chargers there actually are, including the charging rates available for review online.

To calculate it yourself at home, some electricity providers offer a separately metered connection for the cost of the install of a new meter, but then a lower charging rate for EV charging, but if you want to know the cost, just multiply the required number of kWh you need to charge by the cost of a kWh from your provider.

So looking above, our pack size would be 80kWh and most people fill their cars between 15-25% of fuel (You don’t run your normal car empty, so why would you run an EV empty?), you’re looking at 12-20kWh left in the tank or a total of 60-68kWh to be topped up.

Now, using the costs from CanStar, we have worked out that the average Australian is paying $27.99c/kWh for electricity.

So this ultimately leads the cost of charging to an average of $16.794-19.0332 per charge on that car, which is probably a lot less than you are spending on petrol/diesel in your current 4×4.

However, with the projected $57,500 cost for a full conversion, you’re probably looking at only half the price to charge and service the car, so assuming that you do 25,000km a year, that’s $‭2,099.25‬ saved per year in Charging an EV versus fuelling an ICE vehicle, or 27.39 years to pay back the cost of a conversion.

Authors Opinion?

Look, it would be a fun little challenge to do this kind of conversion, but if you’re doing it for practicality at this point, you’re not going to get the range of a standard car. If you’re doing it for the cost savings, you need to look at your break even, and this will only really be a good thing if you are living next to a free charging point, or it’s only around the corner from your house. But at maximum you’re looking at around a $4,200 fuel saving per year if you got every charge free, which is still a 13 year break even timeframe.

So I’d do this kind of conversion for fun, if I could get a good deal on the parts required, but really, it’s not something the average backyard joe could do with the vision of saving money. Sure you could cut some of the costs out by getting different battery packs or using a different motor in your conversion, or even using that old beater that has been sitting down the paddock for a few years because the young fella drove it through the creek and threw a leg out of bed.

Though the price is coming down rapidly, at the time of writing this article there is a Tesla Drive unit on sale on eBay at a buy it now price of $5,500 with $600 shipping, or $6,100 total, though the ~$7,500 seems to be the going rate on average. 12 Months ago you couldn’t get much change out of $12,000 excluding shipping for these motors, so in just 12 months the price has nearly halved. In another year or two, the prices should be rock bottom and you’ll probably be able to pick up motors and batteries for a fraction of the cost you can today, I’d love to come back in 2022 or 2023 and be writing a blog on a <$20,000 EV conversion to a car because the costs of parts come right down.

Anyway, stay safe, and enhance your adventure!

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