Jenny Wiggins: AFR Infrastructure reporter
TrueGreen Mobility subsidiary Nexport will pitch zero emissions vehicles to ports, airports and mining companies after investing $16 million to set up a joint venture with a French engineering group.
The exclusive 20-year licensing agreement with France’s Gaussin Manugistique, which specialises in designing and building zero emissions vehicles for freight transport, expands the kinds of vehicles that Nexport can sell in Australia.
Michel van Maanen, a former Transdev executive who joined Nexport as chief executive in April, said clients wanted different types of vehicles, including autonomous vehicles to move goods around.
Gaussin makes electric vehicles that can move freight around.
Gaussin’s vehicles could be powered by hydrogen, electricity or a combination of the two, he said.
Nexport already holds the rights to exclusively distribute electric cars and vans made by Chinese manufacturing group BYD, which is backed by US billionaire investor Warren Buffett, but it wants to provide a broader range of vehicles.
Sid Rallapalli, Nexport’s head of global partnerships, said the group was not trying to sell “a one size fits all” product and wanted to make vehicles that suited its customers’ needs.
Clients also wanted infrastructure that could support electric vehicles, such as electric bus terminals, Mr van Maanen said.
Trade with France ‘still very active’
“It’s more of a bigger ecosystem today than just delivering the product, being the bus, logistics van or road truck – you need to have the mobility hubs, the charging hubs.
“You cannot rely on a bus that doesn’t have power or doesn’t have hydrogen.”
Mr van Maanen expects demand to be stronger for electric-powered vehicles than hydrogen-powered vehicles in the short term and wants Australian governments to provide more incentives for people to switch to electric vehicles.
“In Europe you cannot find the lease contract for a diesel bus because the bank says in two years it’s obsolete, so they will not finance it.”
Nexport will pay Gaussin $16 million over three years for a licence to make and sell its vehicles. Some of this money will be reinvested back into a joint venture.
The joint venture will import components from Europe but adapt Gaussin’s designs and technology to the Australian market and also use local materials, including steel.
Nexport, which also wants to team up with charging group Tritium to make electric vehicles in Brisbane, is looking for sites near Sydney where it can set up a factory in early 2022 to start building vehicles.
Gaussin CEO Christophe Gaussin said the partnership between the two groups was proof that trade between France and Australia was still “very active.”
Relationships between France and Australia have soured after Australia cancelled a $90 billion submarine contract with France’s state-controlled defence company Naval Group.
Mr van Maanen said it was “business as usual” for small companies like Nexport and its French partners. “The other game is a big boys’ game.”
Nexport has received a $110 million funding injection from Hong Kong’s Tor Investment Management and is using it to expand its transport business ahead of a possible initial public offering in 2022.