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Exclusive: Fusion launches high-tech future
Brabham supercar and emissions-free buses promise to revive ailing auto sector
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15 May 2018
THE all-new Australian-built Brabham BT62 supercar is the showcase for an Adelaide-based automotive manufacturing group’s fledgling specialist vehicle production operation that has already built prototype electric buses for trial with the South Australian government.
Hydrogen fuel-cell urban transport, driverless shuttles and electric city cars are also part of the long-term vision of Fusion Capital – the company behind Brabham Automotive and its limited-edition 522kW Brabham BT62 track car that will sell for a cool $1.81 million when it goes into production late this year.
Although the supercar is the brainchild of Brabham Automotive managing director and 2009 Le Mans winner David Brabham – son of triple world Formula One champion Sir Jack Brabham – Fusion has financed the operation and brought it to fruition in secret over the past three years.
Fusion Capital grew out of automotive parts supplier Precision Components in the northern suburbs of Adelaide where its primary business was to supply components to the nearby, now-defunct GM Holden factory at Elizabeth, as well as Toyota and Ford in Victoria.
Faced with the demise of car manufacturing in Australia, Precision Components and sister company Fusion have set about diversifying their business, including reinventing their automotive operations with a long-term aim of embracing technologies such as electrification, hydrogen power and autonomous driving systems.
Former Tesla and Lotus Cars manufacturing director Christian Reynolds has been brought on board to help mastermind the renaissance, working with fellow directors Mat Fitch – proprietor of Precision Components – and lawyer-turned-commercial-director Dan Marks.
“From our side, we see ourselves as probably more of a mobility group,” Mr Reynolds told GoAuto this week. “We are looking at specialist vehicles within mobility, not necessarily the mass passenger car space.”
The new-look operation started with Precision Buses – a joint venture with one of Australia’s leading bus manufacturers, Bustech, of Queensland.
With Bustech supplying the base product and Precision Buses doing the assembly in Adelaide, an order of 50 low-emissions, lightweight Euro 6 diesel urban buses is already underway for delivery to customers in Queensland and New South Wales.
Precision Buses is also vying for a tender for a 10-year contract to supply Adelaide Metro buses for the SA government, firstly with diesel buses but ultimately – as long as current trials of two electric-powered units are successful – battery-powered buses as well.
With the help of a $2 million grant from the South Australian government, the two prototype electric buses have already been built at the company’s Edinburgh Parks workshops in a new-look hi-tech automotive manufacturing hub that also includes the Brabham Automotive facility and the specialist vehicle suspension manufacturer SupaShock.
One of the electric buses is on trial with Adelaide Metro, but the other, after initial trials, is back at the workshop being fitted with an upgraded Toshiba battery charging system capable of delivering more than 1000 amps, which is sufficient to charge the big 216kWh battery from 15 per cent to 95 per cent in 15 minutes – nine times faster than a standard charger.
That “supercharger” is set to be installed at Precision Buses’ factory next month for testing before being offered to Adelaide Metro to trial at one of its bus depots.
According to Mr Marks, the Toshiba collaboration is typical of the alliances at the cornerstone of Fusion’s plans to develop and build vehicles for a changing market.
“We are having some conversations with some people who have some interesting technology, interesting concepts, and it is really a matter of when it is the right time to go deeper with those opportunities,” he said.
These include hydrogen fuel cell and autonomous driving technologies, although the Fusion directors say the company has “no robust plan” to introduce these technologies at this stage.
However, they say such technologies, along with electrification, will be part of future mobility.
Ultimately, Fusion sees opportunities in what Mr Reynolds describes as “last-mile solutions” – emissions-free local transport such as driverless shuttles and electric city cars suitable for downtown urban areas and similar confined locations.
“So, at some point we expect to see that to become an opportunity for engagement,” he said. “Fixed-route, last-mile (transport) is where we will see those driverless shuttles first deployed.”
Fusion’s Precision Bus and Brabham Automotive operations are already having beneficial knock-on effects for some other automotive parts suppliers devastated by the closure of the Australian car industry over the past two years.
Some parts-makers have been engaged to supply bits and pieces for the vehicles, especially the buses.
Mr Reynolds said there was even some synergy between parts supply for the buses and the Brabham supercar, in areas such as wiring harnesses.
Brabham Automotive is currently fitting out its factory at Edinburgh Parks in a building formerly occupied by German-owned car component supplier ZF Lemforder which, like many other suppliers, closed its local operations with the demise of Holden, Toyota and Ford manufacturing.
The Brabham factory is expected to be ready to start full operations in the second half of this year, with a manufacturing system similar to a Formula One racing car workshop. This involves a system of stalls, each with a car under construction. Six can be built at a time.
The carbon-fibre components of the BT62 are being sourced from a mixture of Australian and European suppliers.
The normally aspirated 5.4-litre V8 engine – based on a production unit from an unnamed mass manufacturer that some pundits speculate is Ford – is being rebuilt to Brabham’s high-performance standards in Australia by an interstate supplier.
The production run of track-only BT62s will be limited to 70, but the company hopes to expand into road supercars and racing machines to tackle the Le Mans 24 Hour classic in France.
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