The Future of Electric Cars in Australia Debate

An upcoming event: “The Future of Electric Cars in Australia” an Engineers Australia presentation by Ashley Sanders from Mitsubishi on Wednesday 13th March 6pm, in Newcastle has sparked a debate on electric vehicle design and cost.

Ballina based Hughes Group’s CEO Howie Hughes disagrees with Ashley Sanders comments on electric vehicle design. “Mr Sanders is coming at the problem of electric vehicles from entirely the wrong angle” said Howie. “We have taken a totally different approach in that we have designed and built a prototype electric vehicle based, firstly, on aviation design techniques and secondly, on what is practical to build in Australia given the initially small demand for energy efficient vehicles, products that will reduce carbon emissions.”

There are two issues here. Most people believe the jury is still out on global warming and it will not be until we have cyclones or these devastating floods every week, that there will be real action taken by Governments or private companies. By real action, Howie means actually producing products that make a real difference.

Secondly, to simply remove a petrol engine from a small car and replace it with an electric motor and batteries, is all but pointless in terms of reducing green house gas if the car is still charged from coal fired power. The design parameters Howie employs includes a totally different set of values which include anaerodynamic body for the vehicle, ultra light weight, regenerative breaking, a home based solar charging station, the elimination of many heavy and unnecessary mechanical bits and pieces and a totally different approach to styling and design. Of course, all this will be totally foreign to a company like Mitsubishi who do most of their design based on the opinions of focus groups and market research, Hughes Engineering, on the other hand, employs a more organic approach (that of  ”form follows function” ) where the end use of the vehicle has been permitted to define almost all of the design parameters.

The end result is what the company calls the Road-E, (see  a three wheel, two seat long range electric vehicle which is more of a cross between a light aircraft and a super hot motor bike.

The Road-E’s styling has yet to be fully developed however when in production, the vehicle will be a real head turner, unlike any other vehicle on the market and the price, even in limited production, about $30,000should cover this simple vehicle.

Hughes Engineering has been successfully producing 2, 4 and, in the near future,  6 seat light aircraft for the past 28 years.

The Road-E in construction The Future of Cars in Australia


The ROADIE Electric Vehicle; designed by a leading Australian Aircraft Designer and Manufacturer, to be appearing at the Newcastle Electric Vehicle Festival from August 16

Hughes Engineering is a light aircraft manufacturer based in Ballina, in Northern New South Wales. The company CEO, Howard Hughes, designed and manufactures the “Australian LightWing” aircraft. Using the lightweight engineering techniques gained for light aircraft, the company decided to produce a project electric motor vehicle, called “The Roadie”. This vehicle has been prototyped at the Ballina manufacturing plant with the objective being to produce a lightweight vehicle capable of 200 km range with two seats and three wheels.

The Roadie will be aimed at the recreational market, including motorbike and car enthusiasts, as having three wheels allows the vehicle to tilt as it rolls into a corner, as would a motorcycle. There is also a growing demand for electric vehicles in Australia ’s mining industry where diesel vehicles will be severely restricted for underground use in the near future and as diesel fumes have recently been classed as carcinogenic, the use of electric vehicles in a variety of industrial applications, including mining, will become more common as time goes on.

Why Electric? Our concern for the reduction in the availability of fossil fuels – no. We are not passionate about green principals or climate change. We are simply concerned that as fossil fuels become scarce, their cost will increase, and the availability will be subject to the whims of those making decisions in Amsterdam and Paris.

Howie’s philosophy on electric cars is a simple “Keep the vehicle light, keep it aerodynamically clean and keep it simple”. Accordingly, the Roadie has a single rear wheel and whilst this type of vehicle may be associated with the various antics of Mr Bean and his rather comical Reliant Regal 3 wheel van, the Roadie has a very low centre of gravity and the single wheel is located at the rear of the car. Eliminating one wheel in the case of rear wheel drive-trains, removes the differential, which is a very heavy piece of engineering, it also eliminates associated springs, brakes, and support structure, etc. resulting in saving at least 200kgs in weight. The 3-seat Roadie has an Empty weight of around 400 kilograms or approximately a third of an equivalent small petrol engine-powered vehicle.

The Roadie’s battery consists of a 10-KVA lithium iron battery pack with 30 3-volt cells distributed through the middle of the vehicle. The battery pack can be removed and exchanged if need be, however the normal charging procedure suggested by Hughes Engineering will be that the Roadie is used for commuting during the day then charged overnight. With a range of around 200 kilometres, this will adequately satisfy most city commuters and the minimal cost per charge of about $2 will be most welcome considering the cost of conventional fuel is set to increase into the future.

Top speed of the Roadie should be around 100 kilometres per hour maximum and the aerodynamic drag of the car or the amount of force or energy required to propel the fuselage through the air, will be approximately one fifth of a square meter, or, less than a quarter that of a normal commuter vehicle. Driving the Roadie will be similar to driving an automatic car. The Roadie has three disk brakes with a handbrake on the rear disk. Power for the headlights and ancillary equipment comes from the 90-volt dc battery supply.

The Hughes Engineering “Roadie” Electric Vehicle (with expected completion for road tests in 2012) will be appearing at the Hunter Valley Electric Vehicle Festival (an initiative of the Tom Farrell Institute for the Environment at the University of Newcastle) in Newcastle on August 16-26th 2012.

The Roadie ~ Electric Car ~ Update

Our Roadie Electric Car has reached the point where its time to fit internals including seats dashboard etc.

Terry and Nick have so far done a great job however the seats the selection of seats was limited to those available from the larger after market automotive supplies and we found that these were all far too large to fit in to the Roadie.

At the same time we have always had a demand for a folding seat in the SP2000 and the SP4000. More so the SP4000 in other words a seat that fold forwards and allows access to the rear seat area for either baggage in the case of the two seater or people in the case of the four seater.

So some time ago we bit the bullet and started to develop fibreglass tooling for this seat. Terry made the first fibreglass mouldings and since then a couple of changes have been made resulting in a very neat pair of mouldings for the base and the back.

The seat flops forward as you would expect , its all been a bit a of a headache its all been very fun to develop this very complex piece of fibreglass tooling which consists of four fibreglass moulds.

More pictures on the way!

Love Soda Water? Save Plastic Bottles.

On collecting a 10-kilo carbon dioxide cylinder from our local BOC supplier the other day I did a quick calculation as to how many litres of fizzy water this cylinder would produce. A very interesting calculation as my guess is about a thousand dollars worth.

A bottle of soda water from a supermarket will set you back around two dollars a litre and at a guess 15 kilos of carbon dioxide at a cost of about 50 dollars makes each bottle worth just a few cents. But that’s not the point of this Great Green Idea, althought you can expect to save about a thousand dollars on your fizzy soft drinks you will also save hundreds of kilos in plastic bottles.

Overall you would have to have rocks in your head not to adopt this fantastic idea which is based on a simple soda stream refilling system combined  with a simple little fitting (Email us for more info) which allows you to refill  the soda stream bottles.

Even without this fitting your bottle of soda water will still only cost a fraction of the retail shelf cost from the retailer but if you refill your own CO2 bottles the cost is reduced to almost zero… Well to about 2 cents a litre.  Compared to two dollars a litre for off the shelf products.

Now that’s Great!

The ‘Roadie’ Electric Car Project develops……


So, what’s the Roadie all about and why is aircraft manufacturer, Australian LightWing, building a light weight 2 seat electric motor vehicle ?


Howie and Nick Hughes, backed up by long time Australian LightWing manufacturing engineer Terry Donaldson, are firmly of the opinion that the green revolution will be the dominant industry for this century. Anything- any process, product or service that saves, reduces or stores carbon will be a winner. BUT, as CEO Howie Hughes states, “that does not mean we believe all the  proposed or projected Climate Change doomsday scenarios. The Roadie is being developed primarily because of our companies dedication to efficiency in transportation in general, and in this case, road transport in particular, but also on the off chance  that the extreme predictions of climate change could just be real, we would like our company to be a leader, not a follower.”

At the time of writing, the Roadie is growing in the corner of the front factory. Anyone calling in will be made most welcome, to view the futuristic 2 seat vehicle and its associated drive train, suspension, Li-Iron batteries and tooling. Occasionally the Roadie has to take second place to aircraft manufacture, the companies core activity— check out .


Of course, 2 additional objectives of the project are to explore the possibility of electric power for aircraft use and also how do we make a “roadable” aircraft, that is, an aircraft that is capable of folding its wings and driving on the roads, this has been achieved in the US so why not here ?


CEO Howie Hughes explains…. Its all about range, electric cars are all about getting the most energy out of a very small power supply. Compare the energy in a cup of petrol to even the best battery, weight for weight it’s a ratio of about 10 to one in favour of the cup of petrol. To have serious range, an electric car must be very light, like about half the weight of an average small car but it must also half the aerodynamic drag. Thinking about a car like the diesel Ford Focus, its propelled by an efficient diesel motor with a turbo etc.,  the car will produces on average 2 kg of carbon per 10 km. If you took this efficient diesel out and replaced it with lets say a 40kw electric motor, then the vehicle will produce a similar amount of carbon per kilometre if its batteries are charged from the Australian grid BUT if its owner also has solar or wind generation, then that car / owner can have carbon neutral  transport. The point is that because of its innovative design, the Roadie will use less energy and go a lot further at less overall cost.


So, when will the Roadie take its first drive ?


We are taking orders during 2012.  Expressions of interest only at this time,

Follow the Roadie’s progress on the net at call any time (02) 6686 8658

Or visit our factory at 176 Southern Cross Drive, Ballina Airport .


Just because its electric, doesn’t mean it has to be boring


You can view images of the  Roadie drawn using Maya movie making software created by Rex Forward. This shows the  front wheel covers and mud-guards with indicators mounted on top. Powerful LED type headlights, are mounted in the rear-view mirrors, these mirrors or their nacelle will also hold the pivot points for the doors which will hinge vertically up about this  point. The Roadie will have both a 100V DC power supply, but also a 12V dc supply for the vehicles electronics.

The Roadie features a toughened laminated glass windscreen.

The  Nose cone of the Roadie opens to allow the battery pack tray to slide in or out  through the tunnel that runs the full length of the passenger compartment. The 30 3.6V cells batteries can be swapped or simply removed for periodic service. The vehicle will be totally self contained, carrying its own charger.

The Range of the Roadie with one 10 kw hr pack is estimated to be between 130 and 160 kilometres but with 2 packs, it is expected to be 250 km. 240V charging will take about 6 hours from an exhausted pack and 2 hours using 415V, so, what makes the Roadie work.


Our CNC marching center uses Logitrol and Mac3 software to cut the various components for the Roadie and also produce the 3D shapes that have been used to fabricate the GRP molds for the Roadie’s unique aerodynamic light weight chassis, this machine center  and others where developed specifically to form a part of the  “organic engineering chain which we have perfected over the past 25 years and than has successfully developed about 10 unique aircraft designs.

A turbo diesel powered Roadie may be available in 2012, watch this space.

Like all the designs that have come from Hughes Engineering located at the Ballina Byron Gateway airport, these include about 10 different aircraft types including the latest super efficient carbon fibre SP-6000  6 seater, the Roadie has “evolved” through a unique process we call “Organic Engineering”. This process permits a rapid transition from concept to real product and we use the latest in PC software and computer aided CNC machining, sounds flash eh ?

Well its not, the CNC machine we built ourselves and cost no more than a few thousand dollars, the driving software is also very simple. We have leveraged the brain power of a unique group of students from Delft university in Holland, these students have been coming to Australia for the past 3 years to work on this project, we swap youthful enthusiasm and  knowledge , giving back hands on design expertise and training in our companies unique brand on “Organic Engineering” it’s a great trade-off.


Li-Iron Batteries.

30 of these lightweight (2.5 kg) batteries will provide the Roadies power train with 10 kw hours, enough with average use, to power the vehicle for up to 3 hours depending on use, regenerative braking will be tested soon using an AC brushless motor of similar power.

The Roadie project has many unique attributes, its teardrop or tadpole shape comes from nature, Design cad, a $100 drawing program is used  with other more sophisticated cad programs, to generate the body profiles while a US bunch of hardware and software cuts most of the components.

The Roadie is predicted to travel 135 km  to 165km using 5 – 8 kw hrs of electricity, this will result in the Roadie generating 0.5 kg of carbon per 10 km. This is a saving compared to a diesel car of about 400%. The downside is that the Roadie has only 2 or 3 seats whereas a diesel motorcar can have up to 5 seats, however diesel is hard for a city dweller to manufacture whereas electricity can easily be generated from solar panels on the roof or from the wind.

If the Roadie is charged from a home solar charging plant, the carbon contribution will be almost zero except for the carbon created in maintaining the vehicle, its manufacture and final recycling.


So why is the Roadie 4 times more efficient  than its diesel counterpart  ?

The answer is easy, the Roadie weighs half the weight of a normal car (estimated 400 kg),  the rolling resistance is proportional to the weight, also the Roadie  ie  has less than half the aerodynamic drag of a normal car….

Result = Roadie efficiency = x 4 that of a normal 4 seat car.

On a per seat basis, efficiency is a little less.

The Roadie will have some limitations with its range of lets say 150 km to 250 km (with 2 battery packs). The Roadie will  not tow your boat to the boat ramp on the weekend and unless you swap batteries, it will not be ideally suited to interstate driving BUT it will be perfectly suited to driving to and from work with range to spare,  weekend driving on return trips of 150 to 250 km and town deliveries where charging is available en-route, perfect !




Q. Why doesn’t adding twice the batteries simply double the range ?

A….the battery pack weighs about 90 kg so 2 packs weigh 180 kg and unfortunately, the batteries don’t burn off weight as does power from fossil fuel so the vehicle is heavier.

Q … what is the cost of an extra battery pack?

A.. About $4,500. at present rates, this can be expected to drop as battery  efficiency improves and more people drive electric cars.

Q… what will be the projected cost of the Roadie?

A… Unknown at this stage, motor cars are one of the cheapest consumer items available with a per kg cost as low as $10 per kg, good steak costs more than this but we estimate the Roadie will be available for less than $30,000

Q …Why 3 wheels ?

A… by removing a wheel from the rear end, we remove about 200 kg from the vehicle weight, weight and aerodynamic drag are critical factors in determining the efficiency of an electric vehicle. If the Roadie had 4 wheels its weight would increase to about 600 to 700 kg with a substantial reduction in range.

Q… what about stability with 3 wheels compared to 4 ?

A… if your worried about stability, Google T-Rex 3 wheel car 5th gear. On this site you will see the 5th gear team flogging the 3 wheel T-Rex around their airport in the UK, now this vehicle is a little different to the Roadie in that it has a 200 hp motorcycle engine, not a 10 kw electric engine but the design and handling will be the same, no problems with stability at all because the Roadie has a very low centre of gravity and low aerodynamic drag.

Q… what about noise ?

A.. Most noise in a normal car comes from forcing air between the underside of the car (which is usually a horror show in terms of pipes, chassis parts etc) and the road, causing huge amounts of aerodynamic drag and noise. In this area, the Roadie is clean, clean, clean ie very clean so little noise is expected at all. Cities populated by Roadie type vehicles would be way nicer places to live particularly near freeways.

Q.. How fast will the Roadie be off the mark and what will be the top speed ?

A….The DC motor has maximum power at zero revolutions so it will have excellent acceleration aided by its light weight, top speed will be about 100 km /hr

Q… how much room is there in the rear compartment ?

A… enough for a couple of children, shopping or  a set of golf clubs.

The Roadie drive train is shown above, its so simple and light.

A 10 kw DC motor is coupled to a BMW rear bike swing axle. 

This rear axle has been chosen because of its one sided rear wheel mount. Remember, the Roadie is part motor bike and part car so changing a tyre must be made easy. All the Roadie wheels are the same and a spare wheel will also be carried in the rear compartment along with a small  jack, wheel brace etc.

All the suspension will feature spring over shocks which are Australian made and adjustable and yes, the Roadie could go off road with minor modifications, just imagine a totally eco-friendly car rally with no noise pollution whatsoever !

A loan wind generator stands on the ridge line behind our town of Lennox Head and we have talked at length with the owner of this relatively small (diam about 10m) wind generator, it was imported from Europe and is ideally suited to home ownership, it is quiet and very efficient and provides more than enough power to run  both a home and a car like the Roadie, the price tag is close to $75k however, its for this reason Hughes Engineering is  developing its own wind generator based on the iconic Comet or Southern Cross windmill, this 2 to 3 KW unit will be available for less than $10k . We project / hope.. our gene  will also find a market in 3rd world countries also.

Little Plastic Bottles

How can i possibly live my life without leaving a strew of these little plastic bottles after me everywhere I go?

I was recently lucky enough to be able to fly over to the USA from Australia for a holiday, and thus I journeyed, as much as I could, staying at places via the website “Airbnb“; which helps people stay in other peoples homes- a cheaper and somewhat greener alternative to hotels and thus, I could leave less of a trail of those little shampoo and conditioner bottles in every town I visited. And it was great; if Airbnb need a spokesperson for any reason, I’m all theirs.

And so, on I journeyed, with a delightful stopover in a momentarily very rainy Fiji, and as I nursed my weak travelers stomach, tenderly navigating the last part of my journey, from one side of the island to another, I was overcome with the deepest sadness as perfect beach after perfect beach, school yard after school yard, village after village, I was watching Fiji stream by, seeing her beautiful landscape slowly fill up with a wasteland of plastic bottles, plastic bags and general plastic crap. Large and small.

As all of our countries (Australia, USA, Canada, Europe, Where are you from?) slowly wrap our heads around the idea that suffocating landfill is a terrible reality, and slowly gather our momentum towards recycling, reducing landfill and terribly ingenious ideas towards reducing the use of plastic bags and what not, our little delightful neighbors, fall by the way side…

Tropical islands, covered in resorts, equipped to offer the perfect 5 star supreme get away, are facing the increasing face of not actually having that recycling plant the rest of us could probably find within a few miles from most of our houses.

As big fat cane toads slugged on by, my initial feeling of being delighted to stop over in Fiji quickly became overshadowed by just feeling bad. Feeling sorry. Feeling inconceivably sorry that once again a bunch of holiday makers and money makers have raped yet another pristine environment.

I have no Great Green Idea to save this world. But in my dream state the airlines and cruise ships (ah hem – Pacific Air) that fly and boat us all in and out, invest a bazillion dollars into a small and extremely functional recycling plant, that turns the volcano of mini shampoo and conditioner bottles into fake pearl necklaces and gardening hats. Richard Branson somehow implements some kind of strategy to save the islands of our tropical dreams. He owns one doesn’t he? Surely he understands.

This may not be a great green idea… this may be more a great green question mark.

But I am finding that the WordPress community of green thinkers seems to be a growing and intelligent bunch, so tell me, what are your thoughts?