With Ireland’s history of car production long behind us, one man based in Co Leitrim is trying to reignite the industry once again, but this time for the 21st century, with Ireland’s first home-designed and built electric vehicle (EV).
An Irish car from the ground up
The little car, with big stats
A Dunmore man is leading a project to build an electric car reminiscent of the last car to be built on the island three decades ago.
Like the DeLorean DMC-12 – which played a starring role in the Back to the Future movies – the ‘Alex eroadster’ will have lifting doors attached to the roof which will boast solar panels for a power boost.
Not only designed to look futuristic, more importantly the design aims to shed weight to improve speed. In fact this model electric car promises to be 30% lighter than most similar sized cars weighing in at around 700kg. They can do this by using advanced composite materials including carbon fibre and kevlar – a material used in bullet proof vests and glass.
Project manager Tom Finnegan, a native of Gurteen, Dunmore, insists the Alex eroadster uses new improved battery technology and lightweight structural technologies to greatly increase range between charges. The lightweight chassis is being designed by Ecomove in Denmark.
“The battery cells have a very large energy density giving a greater power to weight resulting in more kilometres per charge. The car can travel 250 – 300kms before charging, getting you to most places in Ireland at a fraction of the cost of conventional cars without having to recharge. This is well over twice the range of electric cars currently achievable by cars on the Irish market.”
The vehicle will have the battery units stored beneath the floor and the back wheels will be powered by two lightweight AC motors providing rapid acceleration allowing it to easily reach motorway speeds.
A recharge will take 20 to 30 minutes or as Tom puts it, ‘just enough time for a coffee break’.
Irish company Swift Composite Prototypes based in Dunleer, Co Louth, plans to build a new car a week when it enters the market in late 2016 if all things go to schedule. CEO of Swift Gabriel Mathews said ‘he is really excited at the prospect of building this car’.
The car is in the design phase with a working prototype car expected to be soon unveiled. The expected cost of the Alex eroadster is tipped to be around €30,000.
Tom has been developing the idea for some years and produced his own prototype at his Co Roscommon home.
The project took a leap forward when he was partnered with Swift Composite Prototypes – manufacturer of wind turbine blades and components for land transport vehicles – and several universities by the EU programme Vital, which gives financial support and matches entrepreneurs with firms to commercialise ideas or inventions.
“We approached the whole project from the point of view of addressing the problems currently associated with electric cars in general and also public perception of electric cars as a workable alternative to the internal combustion engine,” said the Swift CEO.
The composites company said that their design has rethought the car "from the ground up", with a car that is lighter, faster and crucially has a much greater range than rivals in the market.
Named the Alex eroadster, it will retail in the region of €30,000. Swift Composite Prototypes is a composite manufacturing company based in Drogheda, Co Louth. The company primarily manufactures products for use in the green energy and aeronautics industry, including parts for windturbines, buses and other vehicles.
The company now aims to follow in the footsteps of Tesla in the US by going back to the drawing board and designing a 21st Century vehicle from scratch. Not content with swapping out a traditional petrol of diesel engine for two lightweight 15Kw motors in the design process, the car's chassis and body will be built from a composite made from carbon fibre and kevlar.
The idea for the car came when inventor and project manager Tom Finnegan moved to Roscommon and had "too much time on his hands". With a background in engineering and green energy, he designed a prototype electric car based on a Lotus body. The project has grown from a hobby and now aims to end the main barrier to consumers considering green automobile - range anxiety.
"If you ask 100 people why they won't buy an electric car, 99 will say that the car couldn't get them from Dublin to Galway. We've taken this on board and re-thought the car from the bottom up. The use of a lightweight carbon-fibre chassis saves energy as it is 30pc lighter, and also allows us to store more batteries," he said.
Finnegan says the car will have a range of 250km between charges, which will take between 20-30 minutes at a quick-charge point, and will accelerate from 0 to 100km in less than 10 seconds.
The project is receiving input and support from a EU-supported Structural Funds Programme managed between Queen's University Belfast, Dundalk IT and DCU. The company also works closely with the University of Limerick's Institute for Composite Research.
The genesis for the car's name came as the academics and inventors were brain-storming a name and one of the academics believed the cars body-styling was reminiscent of an Alexander McQueen design. The Alex eroadster was born.
While Swift Composite Prototypes initially began working on their own custom-designed chassis, they were put in contact with Danish company EcoMove, which was already producing an award-winning composite chassis that had been tested and rated by the European New Car Assessment Programme (NCAP).
The Danish company was five years ahead in the design process and had a sound product that ticked all the boxes, so the companies agreed to collaborate. The chassis is one of the few parts of the Alex eroadster not being designed and assembled in the country, however.
The body of the car is being designed in Belfast by graphic-design company BigSmall Design, while the suspension is being custom-designed by Co Wicklow-based TDP Suspension.
The Rathnew company has traditionally custom-designed suspension and manufactured suspension for racing cars, and is well placed to meet the challenge of producing a high-end suspension system that can work with a chassis which has no metal in it.
Swift Composite Prototypes aims to have a prototype ready next year, with the first cars going on sale in early 2017. While Finnegan says that the company has already decided to cap production of the model at 1,000, it hopes to use the car as a launching pad for a larger-scale production of a five-seat family car.
When it goes into production, the Alex eroadster will be the first car produced in Ireland for the commercial market since the DeLorean DMC-12 in 1983, but it's not a comparison that bothers Finnegan.
"We don't mind the comparison really - it has already been dubbed the 'Dun Leerean' by some people, which we think is great as long as it raises awareness of the car. The difference is that the DeLorean was a glorious failure - and this car won't be."