Industry revolutionised – electric tractor a first for Mbombela and SA
Electrifying! A first for South Africa, and a first for Mpumalanga – assembled and proudly produced and manufactured here on home soil.
Lowvelder can reveal that Steve Blatherwick, the owner of Electric Powered Vehicles Africa (EPVA), manufactured and assembled its very first electric tractor, and by the looks of things, it is without a doubt a mean green monster machine.
Blatherwick needs no introduction to the Lowveld. EPVA creates electric magic. The company refurbishes and converts old and tired Defenders and Land Cruisers into electrically powered luxury game viewers, something to be very proud of.
Lowvelder reported on Blatherwick in 2022 when he assembled South Africa’s first-ever electrically powered delivery vehicle, a VW Caddy that is currently in use by Crossing SUPERSPAR to deliver online orders to customers across the city.
And then came the tractor…
Blatherwick, while standing proudly next to his latest electric venture, told Lowvelder where everything started.
“I started a mechanical workshop, specialising in Toyota Land Cruiser modifications and upgrades on just normally aspirated vehicles about 13 years ago. I then left South Africa for London for about two years and became involved in electric vehicles. Five years ago I brought the technology back to South Africa and built the first electric Land Cruiser. A few other vehicles followed – some classic cars, safari vehicles and light commercial vehicles,” he said.
And his latest electric tractor venture?
Some time ago he was approached by an engineer who works for Unitrans who wanted to know if Blatherwick could build an electric tractor.
“To be honest, I had no idea how big the tractor was going to be. We recently managed to get it to run, which took way longer than anticipated. Two years later, give or take, we are going to put it to the test for the next year before it goes into production. The only reason why we took the tractor on as a project is because we have a lot of confidence in the electric vehicle conversion process, so why not a big tractor, which I think is going to tick all the boxes?” he said.
How was the tractor assembled and how does the engine operate, you ask?
Blatherwick explained that the tractor is an existing Bell Hauler, which has been mechanically restored and operates using a 140kWh battery pack, which is 800V DC.
“Everything is liquid-cooled. The battery pack is controlled by an Orion BMS, which can control about 196 individual cells, and the electric motor has a three-speed electrically controlled gearbox that produces 16 000Nm of torque from 0km/h, which is a lot in layman’s terms,” he explained.
But it takes a mean team to make the dream work.
“Gabriel Paterson and Jesse Kinnear are incredibly talented engineers who are enthusiastic individuals who did most of the design work,” Blatherwick said.
According to him, Patterson and Kinnear help a lot when they have to take the conversion process through a modular plug-and-play kit form as it’s a long and tedious process, but they always pull through.
“For example, it took two years to build the first electric Land Cruiser, and now we can build one in eight hours. We hope to do the same with the tractor. Maybe not eight hours, but two days is more realistic.”
And then there is Eric Selala, the electric genius.
“Eric is our electrical and controls genius. He has an amazing talent for understanding electric vehicles, which have been his passion since a very early age. We are very privileged to have him on board.”
Lethabo Nkadimeng and Tumelo Moetketsane are Selala’s assistants in the assembly line, and Pat Blatherwick, Steve’s father, helps with imports and exports, working remotely and popping into the shop from time to time.
Steve has to put the team together to achieve EPVA’s goals and makes all the tough decisions when venturing into these types of projects. He makes sure things get done no matter how long it takes.
The electric tractor is in its final stages and is destined to cross the border. The tractor will be operating in Mozambique in a sugar cane field so that Steve and his team can collect all the data they need to be able to produce a modular new version of what they have just done.
And the long-term plan?
Steve explained that the long-term plan is to make the tractor become a more affordable implement for farmers, and provide a simple bolt-in electric solution.
“To give you an idea, it will take the operating costs of a tractor this size from about R3 000 per day down to about R300 to R350 per day once its electric, which makes a massive difference on the overhaul running costs.”
As far as Blatherwick is concerned, this electric tractor is the first of its kind produced and manufactured in South Africa – and on African soil.
“We are very proud of what we have been able to do in a short time. We are currently a small company, but doing very big things,” he said.
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