Wales – A happy hunting ground for Irish EVs

It is not just cars that are going electric. In the drive to decarbonise, all sorts of vehicles involved in all sorts of activities are changing over to zero emissions – often backed with new software to wring efficiency changes out of driving patterns. Some of those vehicles were on display outside the city hall in Cardiff, part of a trade mission showcasing the output of Irish engineering companies – and the push for clean energy by the Welsh government that is helping those businesses find customers.

One such firm is Romaquip, headquartered in Birr, Co Offaly, which was handing over its first battery electric powered waste recycling truck to Conwy Borough Council. They have been buying Romaquip recycling trucks since 2011. The company has made more than 950 recycling trucks, and has contracts with 45 UK local authorities and many private sector waste companies.

If it is not a familiar name in Ireland, it is because all their recycling trucks have been exported. Romaquip’s Stephen McKeown said: “Wales and England – they’ve really broken new ground. These vehicles, they can get up to the mid 70s – 73%, 74% household recycling.

That’s world beating: you’re in the top 1,2,3 of the world with those figures. “I’d say people aren’t aware of that, but that’s how good they actually are, this particular vehicle – as well as electric. So, carbon zero is what this vehicle actually is, again, developed by us in our factory in Ireland.”

The truck unit comes from DAF in the Netherlands. Romaquip removes the diesel engine and gearbox and replaces them with a battery electric drive system. “And we develop the control system for them as well”, says Stephen McKeown.

“We’re a family-owned company, 160 employees from Birr, Co Offaly, – and I don’t think many people know that.” So, why don’t we see these kinds of kerbside recycling trucks in Ireland? Romaquip says it is down to the way waste is collected in Ireland, with all recyclables placed in the same large wheelie bin for sorting at a waste centre.

In Wales, the sorting is done by the householder, with boxes placed into the several compartments on the truck. “That brings your contamination way down, your recycling levels way up and you end up with a lot more recycled”, says McKeown. Another vehicle supplier moving into the electric vehicle space is EVM, based in Kilbeggan, Co Westmeath, and West Sussex in England.

They have been supplying low emissions minibuses to Transport for Wales for some time, but were handing over their first 100% electric battery powered vehicle to the Welsh public transport operator. Again, the Irish company fully converts an existing diesel vehicle to battery electric drive, and turns it into a bus. In this case a minibus for the “Fflecsi” service – (is) a “demand responsive” bus service that operates in rural areas more or less when the customer wants it.

“What’s different about this, and the Fflecsi programme here in Wales, is that it’s a demand-response type of transport”, says Peter Flynn, sales and marketing director at EVM. “So, rather than your traditional fixed route where the bus goes from A to B – whether there’s people on it or not – the software behind this system amalgamates journeys together, so it should be the most efficient form of transport on a vehicle that’s 100% Zero emissions. “Uber would be the most comparable type of transport where, where there’s an app that basically you request your journey, software in the background amalgamates everybody’s journeys together, and puts people going in the same or similar direction in the same vehicle”.

Transport for Wales has signed up an Irish software company to optimise its public transport services. Galway based CitySwift specialises in data and machine learning for the public transport sector. The pilot aims to deliver efficiencies and improve service levels across the country’s bus network – part of ongoing efforts to shift more people away from private cars to reduce emissions.

This is CitySwift’s first countrywide partnership with a public transport authority, and according to Transport for Wales CEO James Price, it will allow “Welsh bus operators to use modern AI technology to gather data, understand new travel patterns, and make more informed data-driven decisions”. Combilift is a well-known brand in Ireland – and in many other countries. Its specialist forklift trucks – specially built to fit into custom-made warehouses that are designed in the forklift factory in Monaghan town – are one of the biggest Irish industrial success stories of the past two decades.

Electric powered forklifts are not new, but like other vehicle makers, Combilift has seen a sharp upswing in demand for EVs, and CEO Martin McVicar says that demand will only get stronger. “If I look at Wales in particular, 65% of the forklift trucks we will deliver to Wales this year are electric, and Wales will seem to be dominating that drive towards sustainability. For Combi Lift as a company, we’ve been investing in developing a whole range of electric vehicles over the last four to five years and we see that as a real opportunity for growth for the company, but also allowing our customers to be more sustainable, not only with the electric vehicle, but allowing them to do more in their existing warehouses with vehicles allow them to work in smaller spaces, making their business more efficient and more sustainable”.

One of their big customers in Wales is Panasonic. But other markets are also using government incentives to move businesses away from combustion engines. “You take Germany, Austria – many markets are offering incentives for businesses to invest in electric vehicles.

So, you know what – electric is here to stay.

We are in an electric wave and we can see that with our order intake: There’s more and more interest in our electric vehicles than ever,, and I don’t see any reason why electric forklift trucks are not – they’re going to become the norm in the future”, says McVicar.

So, while the big car companies may dominate the private car market, there is still plenty of room in the specialist vehicle market for specialist manufacturers in a country like Ireland to compete for global market share.