The Stara eRetrofit project coordinated by Forum Virium Helsinki converted a seven-year-old truck into an electric vehicle (EV) by replacing its diesel engine with an electric engine. Inspired by the project, Lielahden Autokeskus Oy established a factory in Keuruu.
A few years ago, CEO of Lielahden Autokeskus Mikko Leppälahti became inspired when he read an article in the local news of Tampere about the conversion of a truck with a diesel engine into an electric truck in the Stara eRetrofit project coordinated by Forum Virium. He had long been considering the idea of converting a diesel-powered truck into a natural gas vehicle. Now he found his attention being drawn towards the conversion of a diesel-powered truck into an electric truck.
As the research work continued, Jukka Pellinen, who had worked as a project manager at Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK) during the Stara eRetrofit project, joined the commissioning process of the conversion factory established by Leppälahti as an expert.
“The information and knowhow accumulated at the start of the project coordinated by Forum Virium contributed to the conceptualisation of the first vehicles,” Pellinen says. The joint project encouraged Lielahden Autokeskus to set up a truck conversion factory in Keuruu.
Today, Pellinen works as a project manager in the RDI Centre for Electric Transport project managed by Keuruu Regional Development Company Keulink Ltd. The project continues the development of electric heavy vehicles through several projects. Pellinen says that Keulink Ltd is also developing implementations of electric heavy equipment.
The automotive industry’s operating model is undergoing a change
The Stara eRetrofit project converted a seven-year-old truck into an electric vehicle by replacing its diesel engine with an electric engine. The rapid charging of electric trucks was a topic considered with VTT and Helsinki Region Transport (HSL) before, during and after the project, but the actual project did not include charging infrastructure. The charging system and the infrastructure related to it are still an emerging industrial sector. Electrification constitutes a change at the system level.
“During the Stara eRetrofit project, the development of the ecosystem and industry expertise expanded beyond the project’s scale and budget,” says Director Sami Aherva from Helsinki City Construction Services Stara.
Broadly speaking, this is part of a gradual change in the automotive industry’s operating model that holds great potential. According to Aherva, electrification is a good idea, but it should also be possible to register the converted vehicles. At the EU level, the availability of converted electric vehicles is still limited throughout the EU area.
The factory in Keuruu continues to convert diesel-powered trucks. Jukka Pellinen says that the first 55-tonne electric four-wheel-drive tractor unit operates in a factory area in Äänekoski. The vehicle in question was developed at the Keuruu conversion factory.
“The information and knowhow accumulated at the start of the project coordinated by Forum Virium contributed to the conceptualisation of the first vehicles.”
Jukka Pellinen, Keulink Ltd
Lielahden Autokeskus Oy was founded in 1987 and employs 18 people. The company imports, sells and services trucks, vans and earthmoving equipment and converts heavy equipment to electric. The company’s turnover was EUR 1.6 million in 2020. CEO Mikko Leppälahti has said that the company’s goal is to be able to convert 250–300 trucks per year to electric by 2027. This would increase the company’s turnover to approximately EUR 30 million.
The Stara eRetrofit project, which concluded at the end of 2022, was the first in Finland to convert a diesel-powered truck to electric. The three-year project was carried out by Helsinki City Construction Services Stara and Forum Virium Helsinki in cooperation with Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK) and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.
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Article photo: Ruska Tapiovaara, Forum Virium Helsinki