10 May 2018

Electric vehicle initiative 'fell off the radar' — Nissan Ireland boss

Local authorities in Ireland 'did not buy in' to the benefits of electric cars investment when Nissan Ireland powered up the concept back in 2010, writes Brian Byrne.

That's the view of James McCarthy, MD of Nissan Ireland, who said that the initiative 'fell off the radar' because of a 'lack of coordination across all the shareholders'.

Speaking at the recent Electronomous Car Tech Summit 2018 organised by Cartell.ie, he said that while government 'had been incredibly helpful', and branches of state like the SEAI were very active, it didn't seem that local authorities had made any investment.

"Back in 2010 Nissan had identified Ireland as an ideal test site to drive forward EV adoption," he told motoring journalist Quentin Wilson, adding that the climate here was much more suitable than in Norway, which has subsequently made enormous strides in its electric vehicle infrastructure. "We were very buoyed by the statement that there would be 20,000 electric vehicles here by 2020 … but to achieve that now would be a miracle."

He said when Nissan Ireland had committed to be involved in the initiative, it had required 'substantial investment', which had taken a long time to recover. "But it gave us the opportunity to be at the forefront of the emerging technology."

McCarthy welcomed recent initiatives like the fast-track Capital Allowance, and the extra grants for EV purchase recently made available to taxi operators. "But there needs to be a total understanding, a complete solution. A taxi operator can save €1,200 a year in fuel costs, but only if he has access to charging."

He added that the national charging infrastructure put in place by the ESB with EU support 'had been allowed to wither on the vine'. "It is simply not fit for purpose today, and if it isn't revived and updated it will become irrelevant." The positive is, he added, is that it 'wouldn't take much' to revive it.

Still on the charging infrastructure, he said that with battery range improvements and home charging, he wasn't convinced that forecourts are the future for charging locations. "The challenge to them will come from other locations, which can upgrade and pivot as the situation evolves."

Discussing powertrain developments, McCarthy said that the automotive industry is at a point where massive investment is needed in research and development. "No one company can do it on its own, and as a result, consumer choice is going to be limited, and the choice will be electric because that is the chosen technology for research and development."

Hybrids, he believes, are a 'temporary place', and even Toyota, which has a big investment in hybrid, 'is now committing to EVs'. He added that there are developments in China which suggest that the 'holy grail' of 500km range on a 3-minute charge 'is not so far away'.

He concluded his commentary by saying that Ireland needs a 'czar' in charge of electric vehicles and infrastructural development to drive the whole thing from consumer, state, and other interested parties.