03 Feb
The traditional ute has typically been a great workhorse in difficult conditions.

Is an electric ute a viable fleet prospect?

The humble ute has come a long way as a vehicle aimed at simply hauling a large amount of cargo in difficult conditions. Today, they're becoming even more versatile, with many choosing to leverage them personally as well as for work. In fact, an interactive survey from stuff.co.nz explained that around 50 per cent of Kiwi ute owners use their vehicles for both business and pleasure.

Utes certainly haven't lost any of their versatility. The latest and greatest from the likes of Toyota with its Hilux – one of the best selling vehicles across New Zealand – have certainly pushed the boundaries of how user-friendly a workhorse can be.

Fifty per cent of Kiwi ute owners use their vehicles for both business and pleasure.

However, one thing that is a relative commonality is how most utes garner their power. Traditionally, they've relied on petrol or diesel engines, with the latter in particular a popular choice due to the high level of torque produced.

Naturally, as utes have been a popular choice amongst businesses leveraging fuel cards, their economy has occasionally been in the spotlight. Fortunately, as technology has advanced, it's been easier for manufacturers such as Toyota to create power units that are performance oriented yet efficient.

Going forward though, could one Australian-based company be set to take that mantra even further?

Embracing electricity

Well, the ultimate aim of Red Automotive Technologies is to create a powerful, tough vehicle, while removing the internal combustion engine altogether. In fact, the company is looking to be one of the first to twin an SUV-type vehicle with an electric motor, bringing the final product to market in 2018.

Red Automotive Technologies was founded by Adelaide-based engineer Paul van de Loo, and he hopes to produce a product that's high-performance, usable and tough in equal measure. In fact, in the case of the former, Digital Trends reported that the concept could complete the 0-100 kph sprint in under four seconds.

While that may not sound too impressive in its own right, especially given the performance figures companies such as Tesla has been able to unlock using battery tech, Red Automotive Technologies' offering will be able to tow 8,000 pounds.

Adding capability

The ultimate aim of the project is to create a ute and/or SUV range that is powered by electricity, yet one that's just as capable as equivalents with internal combustion engines. To that end, performance on the road – as well as off it – will be firmly in focus.

"There is a lot of activity in SUV electric or electric hybrids, but primarily in the soft-road segment. The design we have developed indicates that there are huge advantages to be gained in performance. Most off-road-capable SUVs have very stark compromises between on-road performance and off-road," surmised Mr Van de Loo, as quoted by motoring.com.au

"When you go in with a clean sheet of paper and you have an architecture where you can put a motor at each wheel and a big skateboard-type battery in between, the opportunities in suspension design alone are enormous," he concluded.

Utes and SUVs come into their own when the going gets tough.Utes and SUVs come into their own when the going gets tough.

Technological advancement

So, the work of Red Automotive Technologies could certainly take the existing battery-powered tech and better it, but it appears as though the company has its sights set on bringing a highly accomplished electric SUV to market, rather than simply a half-finished concept.

Whether it achieves its aims remains to be seen, but there can be little denying that an all electric ute or SUV would be highly valued. As touched on, both business users and casual motorists alike have an obsession with such vehicles across New Zealand, so boosting their performance and usability in the future would likely go down well on these shores and beyond.