The electric Toyota Land Cruiser that solves mining problems – TopAuto
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Monday / 4 July 2022
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The electric Toyota Land Cruiser that solves mining problems

SMT Scharf Africa has taken one of the country’s most beloved bakkies, the Toyota Land Cruiser 79, and converted it to run on pure electricity.

However, the company made clear that its Light Electric Vehicle (LEV) is not the next competitor to Tesla’s Cybertruck.

The bakkie is built mainly to operate in mines – where noise, vibrations, and emissions in tight underground spaces are the main issues it’s addressing.

It’s also doing this quite successfully, with left-hand-drive units currently being assembled for customers as far away as Canada, said Scharf.

The company designed and hand-built the electrical underpinnings on local soil, and it kindly invited TopAuto to its premises in Johannesburg to have a look at its impressive operations and find out more about this Toyota.

Under the hood

The Scharf LEV looks like a standard beefed-up Land Cruiser from the outside – until the bonnet is popped.

Under here, what you see is a huge orange battery pack and plugs and sleeves going in every direction, instead of a diesel motor.

Scharf’s lead design engineer explained that they remove the diesel engine, along with components that are traditionally powered by the motor such as the alternator, steering pump, and airconditioner – and replace these with electrically-powered parts.

A “permanent magnet synchronous” electric motor is positioned where the driveshaft would usually be, whereas the battery pack is installed on the existing engine mounts.

Scharf said it imports its electric drivetrain components from reputable brands that meet stringent safety requirements.

The 40.24kWh lithium-ion battery features “premium NMC cells” that meet high standards, and the onboard charger accommodates larger power ratings than those on conventional electric vehicles (EV), leading to minimal downtime for charging during operating hours.

Operators can expect 100% charge to be reached in 6 hours and 30 minutes on a standard 220V wall socket, 2 hours and 30 minutes on a 3-phase 380V wall socket, and 43 minutes on a 120kW DC fast charger.

For battery protection, Scharf makes use of its proprietary liquid-cooled casing that it said offers industry-leading protection in case of an accident.

“Having good expertise, we built up our own design and quality standards for our batteries, which is much more comprehensive [than the current commercial standards],” it said.

Furthermore, the electric motor in this Land Cruiser is generally used for trucks and buses, and therefore provides sufficient power, robustness, vibration protection, and ingress protection for underground use.

The motor also connects straight to the Toyota transfer case, allowing it to still provide 2H, 4H, and 4L modes of operation.

At peak, the electric powertrain puts out 100kW and 1,000Nm – while during normal operation it provides a continuous 60kW and 600Nm.

Brake energy recuperation is another ability of the system. The electric motor perceptibly brakes the vehicle on downhills – of which there are many in a mine – and feeds power back into the motor for increased range and lower brake pad and disc wear.

Finally, Scharf installs its own Electronic Control Unit (ECU) alongside the Toyota-made ECU to permanently monitor all its systems.

When all is said and done, the Scharf LEV weighs around 2.5 tonnes and offers a driving range between 150-180km, a top speed of 145km/h, and a maximum incline scaleability of 45 degrees.

Barring the reduced range, the noiseless LEV offers improved occupant comfort and enhanced off-road abilities compared to its standard siblings, and Scharf said it’s just as competent as before in doing its daily duties, if not more so.


Inside the cabin, Scharf kept almost everything standard except for the centre console and driver’s display, which are custom for the LEV.

Additionally, the floor is rubberized and metal plates are bolted on the door sills to enhance robustness.

In line with mining regulations, there’s also a fire suppression system installed between the front seats, an emergency ignition lock that kicks in as soon as a door opens, a range of alarms for different warnings, and a roll bar that sees the height of the roof lifted by a few centimetres.

However, interior space and comfort are equal to that of the standard bakkie.

Scharf said the double-cab model we test drove is usually reserved for shuffling executives and businessmen up and down deep mines, and we don’t think they’ll complain about amenities anytime soon.

Cost of conversion

Currently, Scharf does electric conversions for both the Toyota Land Cruiser and Hilux, and for commercial and private clients alike.

The company has been stockpiling parts since the start of the pandemic to ensure availability, as the biggest hurdle it’s currently facing is supply-chain constraints and component shortages, it said.

Clients looking to convert their Toyota will pay around R1.5 million, excluding the price of the vehicle.

It can also be customised to tailor-made specifications to suit even more niche purposes.

“Although this initial conversion cost seems massive, similar to solar generation systems, the investment is extremely attractive over a long term, with a worst-case (<100 km/day) break-even point of 48 months compared to the high operating costs of equivalent diesel Land Cruisers,” said Scharf.

“With the increasing oil prices, we calculated a 96% decreased operating costs compared to the equivalent 4.5L V8 engine.”

The company is already busy building a number of LEVs for a customer who wanted to give their old mine bakkies new life instead of decommissioning them.

“Our target market is the global underground mining market, where clean ventilation air is a major aspect of any operation,” said Scharf.

Scharf said its zero-emission conversions will allow businesses to reduce ventilation expenses, improve underground conditions for employees, and decrease their overall carbon footprint.

How it drives

The Scharf LEV drives almost exactly like a standard Land Cruiser 79 – that is, tractor-like.

However, it’s surprisingly nimble and effortless, and thanks to the electric motor it’s so quiet that pedestrians must be hooted at before they notice you’re there.

We took it around an empty parking lot as well as over a small dirt track in Scharf’s backyard to get a rough idea of what the LEV can do, and it didn’t seem like it was any less capable than its petrol and diesel siblings.

The torque is delivered generously and you only need light inputs on the throttle to make it crawl over steep obstacles or through deep ruts.

It also doesn’t do break-neck accelerations like EVs are generally known for, but has a decent jump in its step and gets up to legal speeds rather easily.

The heavy-duty suspension installed by Scharf makes the ride stiffer than normal, but not by much – and although the substantial weight is noticeable when turning a corner, the big dampers do well to manage the pitch and roll of the body.

Scharf LEV

Scharf LEV assembly

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