Talk to the converted

In April 2023, Aussie Angles14 MinutesBy Mike WilliamsMay 6, 2023

Janus Electric, founded in 2019 by Bevan Dooley and Lex Forsyth, is an all- Australian business based out of Berkeley Vale on the New South Wales central coast. The Janus Conversion is born from a very simple idea – let’s grab a prime mover we know and love and re-power it – bring it into a new world. Can we make re-energising the truck as simple as swapping out the battery in a cordless drill?

The fundamental objections to adopting electric vehicles in trucking often revolve around operational issues. These include the loss of an asset’s use while it’s being re-energised, the perception that electric vehicles have only a short useful range, the lack of infrastructure that supports electric and loss of payload due to increased tare. On the weight issue, at least in Australia, there have been some limitations placed on the vehicles by design rules and axle-group weight limits. More on that later.

Then there are the serious objections… ‘It’s too high, too low, too wide.’ ‘I can’t get one in Turismo Blue.’ ‘What if my mates see me…?’ No matter the objection, it has resulted in operators and drivers being reluctant to accept the technology. The challenge has been developing a concept and vehicle design that resolves the real issues. Once these incredible beasts prove themselves in the real world and operators start to see the potential and savings, I suspect the other issues will resolve themselves.

Battery packs up close.

The Janus Electric conversion ticks every box and adds a few benefits for those who appreciate choice and want to hang on to those familiar makes and models, the purists, or the nostalgics the aero designs don’t appeal to. Janus has risen to the challenge and has come a long way from its early days. Converted units are now out and about working in real-world applications.

It’s not been a trouble-free run for the project. The loss of a prototype due to fire was a real blow. Another roadblock was due to the weight limits on steer axles and the challenges of working within Australian Design Rules (ADR80/03), which simply never considered electric trucks. The rules considers weight variations for Euro-emission standard-powered prime movers but not zero-emission electric. They needed to catch up with technology.

A common design modification termed front under-run protection systems (FUPS), which prevents cars from becoming trapped under the front in the unfortunate event of a collision and also ensures the safety features such as seatbelts, airbags and crumple zones remain fully effective, is required on 26m B-Double combinations. Any truck with FUPS is allowed a 6500kg steer-axle weight. Trucks without FUPS are only allowed 6000kg. The steer weight on the test truck was about 6200kg and therefore in tiger country. Eventually, an exemption was granted but only after a worrying and intense period of negotiations.

Since then, ADR 80/04, which adopts Euro-6 and equivalent standards for heavy vehicles, has been signed. In a recent press release, Heavy Vehicle Industry Australia said ADR 80/04 enabled electric trucks “to operate at the same steer- axle mass limits available to trucks complying with ADR 80/01 or later”.

Converted Freightliner Coronado.

Let’s get converted

How does it work? It’s clearly stating the obvious but, coupled with the physical space requirements to accommodate the electric motor, there must also be space for the batteries, controllers and wiring harnessing that tie it all together. The Janus concept relies on the modular construction of most prime movers – many different manufacturers incorporating universally available components in their designs, from engines and drivelines to fuel tank shapes and volumes. It doesn’t matter if the truck is a conventional or a cabover, they all share a requirement to fit uniformly manufactured, third-party powerplants and other OEM components.

The conversion begins with the selection of a donor vehicle. (At some point, there will doubtless be a glider made available for conversion. Kenworth has supplied a T610 for an experimental conversion – the first glider produced in Australia for a couple of decades.) You can strip down the donor yourself or have it done for you at Berkeley Vale. The engine and all the OEM components that cause us so much grief and downtime are removed, and the driveline is removed to the front differential. Engine-bay wiring harness, exhaust system and (oh, thank god!) the AdBlue system are all gone, along with fuel tanks and fuel lines. Everything. A few entries on an online marketplace or a trip to the truck wrecker will probably raise more than beer money.

Take a minute to think about that. No more alternator issues, dead starter motors, flat starter batteries. No more leaking radiators, heater core or other coolant leaks. No more coolant. No more blown turbos, dead turbo actuators, stuck wastegates or leaking air-to-air units. No more fuel pump or injector issues. No more AdBlue or EGR issues. No waiting for that regen burn… No more B services! You never have to buy another oil or fuel filter. Engine-off cooling or heating systems are also gone. No need for an evaporative unit or an Icepak. Just turn on your aircon.

When the donor is ready, you have a truck that is basically a chassis with axles, brakes and suspension; a cab with the interior and fittings cleaned, the chassis pressure-cleaned and ready and waiting for the heart transplant – 720hp of Dana magic.

The Dana electric motor.

If I were doing the conversion, I’d have chassis sandblasted and give the paint a freshen-up. No doubt, the sky is the limit. Remember, this converted truck is going to be around for a while. For me, that is the best part of the whole thing. I jokingly said to Janus co-founder Lex Forsyth, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to get an old classic like an LTL and re-power that?’ That old-school look really does it for me. The only thing holding it back is the wiring looms. But we can still make wiring looms. We’re recycling trucks. We’re also dealing with tried-and-tested components. Apart from the engine electrics, the truck remains the same. That alone is a huge bonus. You’re not going to have to wait for rare and exotic basic parts. I’m sorry to report that if you re-power a Kenworth, you’re still going to have to use the VIN at the parts counter.

The Janus conversion unit is mated to your existing automatic transmission. It must be an auto because, realistically, who wants to test the weakest link in the driveline with a dodgy gear change? So that may influence the choice of donor and the bottom line on the conversion. After about four weeks of fabrication, wiring and testing, your newly converted rig is ready for the road.

What we end up with for our money is an impressive vehicle with some impressive numbers. Going on the reports of those who’ve had a drive, it’s also an astonishing driving experience. I’m sad to admit that I haven’t had the pleasure yet. I was all lined up for a run and injured myself playing with a tanker. My shot is going to have to wait.

Practical considerations

A full battery recharge using an on-site charging station takes four hours. But you don’t have to sit and wait. The Janus ‘swap-n-go’ battery system requires the truck to be stationary for less than five minutes while a forklift is used to swap out the batteries. Eventually, this will be done robotically at the charging station. A fully re-energized truck will have a 400-500km indicative battery range, dependent on operation and application. The engine temperature runs low – 40°C less than diesel engines. You’ll also have a more stable truck due to a lower centre of gravity.

Converted trucks don’t come with batteries. The model is that batteries are hired either daily or per exchange, no different to your swap-n-go gas bottle. Some might want the batteries as well, which is understandable, but why would you? As the technology evolves, battery life is improving. Why would you want to be stuck with old batteries when the new ones will come online, and you’ll directly benefit from that at no additional cost. Another point here – this is an advantage over vehicles with battery cells built into them, you’ll never have to deal with the capital expense of replacing a battery.

Thinking about the range issue for a minute… until there are charge and change stations dotted all over the map, trip planning should come into focus. Electric should be viewed no differently than any other fuel source. They all run out eventually, and when they do, it can be a challenge no matter what powers the big jigger. Take, for example, the availability of truck fuel and additives. Remember when we said this AdBlue thing wouldn’t work because you can’t get it anywhere? Now, look at it. The range objection really makes me laugh. Unless they’ve moved the towns while we weren’t looking, there’s no problem.

Janus Electric claims a 30% saving in maintenance and operating costs. The lifetime cost of ownership is forecast to take a nosedive in operating costs through decreases in service and other regular expenses – 73c/ km compared with $1.20/ km has been claimed. But, realistically, each business and application are unique, and savings will vary.

The latest motor produces 537kW (720hp) and 2500Nm of torque at 1700rpm. That’s just incredible. Having that available from a standing start has got to put a smile on your face, I don’t care who you are! When they say ‘just send it, son’… you can.

You have to take your hat off to the Janus team. For me, the mix they’ve created satisfies the desire to have trucks we’re used to seeing and happy to drive converted to the newest technology. The dollar and environmental savings that represents for not much more than the cost of a crate motor are winners. I’m almost tempted to be an owner-operator again!

To quote Lex, “I think in 10 years’ time, if we [Janus Electric] haven’t got 15% to 20% of the Australian market, we haven’t done our job properly.”

Want to contact Mike? Find him at @theoztrucker on Twitter, On The Road Podcast (@otrpodcastaus) on Facebook or email