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Electric Toyota Land Cruiser, HiLux put to work in Oz: is this the coolest EV ever?

Toyota's iconic LandCruiser has undergone an EV makeover, with all-electric versions set to be put to work in Australia's mines. And what's more, one of country's most popular vehicles - the Toyota HiLux - is set to get the same treatment.

It might look awfully familiar, but the EV 'Cruiser isn't actually a Toyota. Instead, it's been developed by Netherlands' company Tembo, who provides mining vehicles to sites around the world.

But the EV project also has a distinctly Australian link. GB Auto - based in Orange, NSW - began as a local distributor for Tembo, but has since designed the wiring harness that is now used in Tembo vehicles around the world.

The project is still in its infancy in Australia, with two international-spec EV LandCruisers in the process of being delivered to mining customers. But GB Auto has shipped an Australian-spec 'Cruiser, purchased new in Bathurst, to the Netherlands where it will be outfitted for our conditions.

The plan is that GB Auto will complete local conversions on Australian cars from its Orange HQ, without having to ship the vehicles overseas.

"We got involved about a year ago when Tembo was looking for a local provider with a good footprint and a history with the mining industry," says GB Auto general manager, Bill Dunlop.

"But it’s evolved into a lot more; we now supply the wiring harnesses for the vehicle. So if it's a Tembo vehicle anywhere in the world, then it has a GB Auto wiring harness in it. And that's a big deal - it's not just a couple of wires, it's a new electrical system."

The LandCruiser and HiLux are the most commonly used vehicles on mine sites around the world, and so GB Auto hopes to grow Tembo's local footprint in Australia, beginning with vehicles tailored to underground mines, where emissions and ventilation can be an expensive issue to solve.

"We’re focusing on the Cruiser at the moment, but there's a HiLux on trial in Europe, and we designed and manufactured the wiring harnesses for that vehicle, too," Dunlop says.

"The big focus is on underground mining, where ventilation is an issue. So that's a big driver for the industry; to get to zero emissions in the underground environment for workers' health."

"But the next step will be around expanding into those different mine environments. The vehicles we offer full mine-spec, and they're made to live on a mine site - in a normal passenger car, the specification would be massive overkill.

"The Cruiser and HiLux are the most commonly used vehicles on mine sites around the world. And so they’re instantly familiar; there’s no new training, it drives in a similar way, and we make them full-time four-wheel drive to suit the conditions."

The LandCruiser has two specifications - 28kWh battery with 80km range or 56kWh battery with 160km range - with battery packs placed at both ends of the vehicle (inside the bonnet and beneath the tray). The range can be adjusted on a per-order basis, but the focus for mining customers is often on faster charging rather than a longer range. The LandCruiser produces 110kW and 250Nm, but thanks to a Tembo-built reduction box, the 'Cruiser produces a quoted 1866Nm at the wheels.

"The range comes down to a balance. The mines run all day and night, so we could extend the range, but that would also extend the charge time," Dunlop says.

"Our customers want to be able to plug in when they can - what we call opportunity charging - so when they're fixing a machine or they take a break, they can plug it in. It has an on-board lead that connects to a site's 415-volt system, so they can plug it into any charge point underground."

Exactly how much each Toyota will cost is unknown at this point, but Dunlop does point out that the program is still in a low-volume stage, and that each vehicle is equipped with a host of additions required for a mine site, as well as the EV conversion.

"There’s a lot of specific equipment for each vehicle, because they’re tailored to each site," he says.

Is the an electric LandCruiser the coolest EV ever? Tell us in the comments below.