Labor’s ambitions to ramp up electric vehicles may be in tatters but some small Australian startups are amongst world leaders in the sector.
Brisbane-based Tritium manufactures the fastest electrical vehicle charging stations in the world with 95 per cent of its production exported.
“This is a critical piece of infrastructure that allows electric vehicles to make sense,” co-founder and chief executive David Finn says.
Mr Finn started Tritium in 2001 with his former university class mates Paul Sernia and James Kennedy after they met as part of a university solar car racing team.
“Back in ’99 we were driving across Australia on the power of a toaster and it made you think ‘there must be a better way of doing this’,” Finn says.
Focus on charging
The trio turned their attention to electric cars but decided to focus on charging stations after identifying it as the key component enabling easy uptake of electric vehicles.
“It is high power to make it convenient,” Finn says. “We really focused on what we thought the driver wanted and brought that to the market place.”
For the first 10 years Tritium was in business the co-founders funded the startup themselves and once they pivoted to focus on charging stations a Commercialisation Australia grant took Tritium “from a bench top project to something commercially viable”.
“From there it has been the story of a growth company, we have had multiple funding rounds,” Finn says.
“We launched in European and the North American market and have been riding a wave ever since.”
We were driving across Australia on the power of a toaster and it made you think ‘there must be a better way of doing this’.
Its biggest single customer to date is Ionity, a startup funded by Volkswagan, BMW, Ford and Daimler which operates a charging network across Europe.
“The car companies have spent billions developing vehicle technology and don’t want to run the risk of people making a buying decision to stay with a petrol car because they can’t charge,” Finn says.
The company involved hopes to build one hundred more by the end of the year but says Australia could miss an important window to the potentially lucrative industry.
Heading for unicorn status
Over the past three years the startup’s revenue has doubled every year and it employs 250 people.
Tritium turned over $13.4 million in 2017, $34 million in 2018 and is on track for turnover of $65 million this financial year.
Australia is among the top 20 nations for new car purchases but electric vehicles represent only 1.2 per cent of sales.
That is set to change with only 11 models of electric car available in Australia at the moment and 60 different models set to be available in the next few years.
“Another factor is the price of batteries dropping, they will reach parity with internal combustion energy in the next few years,” Finn says. “For us our focus is on making sure that the petrol station equivalent is there.”
While Tritium’s chargers are being snapped up overseas, its products have not got the same traction in the Australian market.
Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon Brookes questioned why there was not more support for Tritium on Twitter last month.
“Fastest chargers in the world,” he tweeted. “Made in Australia. Manufacturer. Exporter. Absolutely massive growth industry. And 20 per cent of the jobs of Adani construction phase (not running the mine). From one Aussie tech startup. Imagine if we leaned in?”
ChargeFox won $6 million in funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to roll out an ultra-rapid charging network along the major driving routes from Brisbane to Adelaide, including around Sydney and Melbourne, and separately in Western Australia.
ChargeFox co-founder Marty Andrews says the startup has raised $17 million and is building 22 sites across the country.
“We use a couple of different charging station manufacturers including Tritium,” Mr Andrews says. “It’s an Australian-based company and they create chargers as good as any in the world, there are only a handful of companies that make these products. It’s ironic to have them in our backyard in a country which, frankly, has been a global laggard in the industry.”
“We are helping to break the chicken egg cycle and to give manufacturers confidence to bring cars to Australia,” he says. “We have the tech and ability to do it here in Australia.”