A Special Report is content that is edited and produced by the Special Reports unit within The Irish Times Content Studio. It is supported by advertisers who may contribute to the report, but who do not have editorial control.

Leading the charge in electric cars

Environmental concerns and financial incentives are driving sales of electric and hybrid vehicles

There is a network of publicly available charge points located throughout Ireland. Photograph: iStock

There is a network of publicly available charge points located throughout Ireland. Photograph: iStock


In February, the Government set an ambitious goal as part of the National Development Plan to see 500,000 electric cars on the road in Ireland by 2030.

To support this, the plan includes the intention that no new non-zero emission vehicles will be sold in Ireland post 2030.

While Ireland has committed to reduce carbon emissions under the Paris agreement, it is currently not on track to do so. Therefore, how realistic is the Government’s goal? And what are car manufacturers doing to fulfil their obligations and meet the predicted increase in demand for electric or hybrid cars?

Many car makers now have a range of hybrids – using both electric and a petrol tank – on the market, including Lexus, BMW, Nissan, Mazda, Toyota and Jaguar, while many also have a full electric vehicle on the road or in the pipeline.

In 2017, there were 435 sales of EV vehicles in Ireland. Already in 2018, up to May 31st, there have been 626 EV sales – a huge jump.

Searches for both electric and hybrid vehicles have surged by 62 per cent year on year, according to data released by motor website DoneDeal.ie recently.

The sharp increase in interest is notable, as electric and hybrids currently make up less than 2 per cent of the new and used car stock currently on the market in Ireland.

Diesel drivers accounted for 67 per cent of the 1,000 drivers surveyed, with petrol drivers next at 29 per cent, hybrid (3 per cent) and electric (1 per cent).

Five per cent of those living in Dublin said they were actively seeking a hybrid or electric vehicle as their next car purchase.

Surge in interest

There are a number of factors creating this surge in interest, according to Mark Bradley, head of business at Frank Keane BMW.

“There is an awareness of air quality through the media. A number of cities are suffering from air-quality issues, and they are now moving towards banning older and polluting diesels. There is a requirement for us to reduce our CO2 emissions and carbon footprint in Ireland. Transport forms a big part of that, so there is an appetite from legislators to move our car fleet towards lower CO2, which is being done by offering grants and incentives.”

Bradley says they are seeing a “phenomenal demand” and a huge amount of enquiry for BMW’s full electric car offering, the i3, mainly due to the many exemptions available to customers.

According to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), driving an EV reduces transportation costs by 74 per cent and drivers will benefit from the lowest motor tax rate of €120

“You get the SEAI grant and VRT relief, and for example, on a BMW i3 – for a private customer, that’s a saving of €10,000 off the recommended retail price if they go down that route.”

However, diesel and petrol is most certainly not dead, Bradley says, with a hybrid vehicle, which runs on both electric and petrol, a happy medium for many customers.

“The diesel engines we are producing now have low emissions, so whilst diesel is getting a dirty name, it belongs with the older, less compliant diesels but the current BMW range is phenomenally efficient. For those who are doing high mileage, we still see a space for diesel. If you don’t want full electric plug-in, we have plug-in hybrids which are the best of both worlds – petrol engines with an electric motor which can be recharged. There is a strong demand from individuals who want to move away from diesel to a plug-in hybrid and we cater to that,” he says.

James McCarthy, chief executive of Nissan Ireland, says they are also seeing a “huge upsurge” in interest and demand for 100 per cent electric vehicles. Nissan accounted for 44.6 per cent of EV sales in 2017 and for 41 per cent of the 626 sold to date this year.

“Consumers are being drawn to the eco solutions like the new 40kw Nissan Leaf because it can save them money. They are attracted to the car for three reasons – it is 100 per cent electric, it has a [NEDC] range of 378 kilometres on one charge and it can save them at least €1,350 a year in fuel and road tax costs.”

Interestingly, he says consumers buying Leaf do not consider driving a hybrid to be an eco-solution.

“They realise that an average hybrid consumes 3.4 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres, which is about the same as a typical mid-range diesel car.”

First hybrid hearse

Ford recently launched its first hybrid model, the Mondeo HEV, and it has also been launched as the first hybrid hearse in the country.

However, there is still a way to go before we are all driving electric, according to Ciarán McMahon, chairman and managing director of Ford Ireland.

“I think some people have been a bit too ambitious in saying that diesel is dead and that we will all be driving electric cars within five years. Electric and other fuel sources have their part to play but ‘traditional’ petrol and diesel will still lead the market for certainly the next 10 to 15 years,” he says.

In terms of autonomous vehicles, Ford has the largest test fleet of AVs in the world and just this year, at the company’s R&D centre in Aachen, Germany, Ford is beginning AV trials in Europe.

Mark Bradley says that while electric vehicles are mainstream in other markets, Norway being the poster child for electric mobility, customers will continue to opt for clean diesel in Ireland for a while.

“It’s a big step and full electric won’t be for everybody initially. A lot of customers are curious about electric but are looking to a hybrid first. Mega cities will see shifts first in terms of autonomous driving and shared mobility but the shift is only a matter of time.”

Nissan says from an environmental point of view, the 100 per cent electric options win out hands down as they produce zero emissions. 

“In addition to their environmental benefits, electric vehicles are also extremely economical to run – costing on average about 1c per km as compared to a diesel equivalent which would cost about 7c per km to run, saving the consumer on average €1,350 per year in fuel costs,” says James McCarthy. “Hybrid vehicles do not provide the same level of environmental or savings benefit to consumers as at best they only run 50 per cent of the time in battery mode and therefore generally consume fuel at similar rates to standard diesel engines.”

Electric incentives

Ireland currently has a range of policy measures (including tax relief) that support the uptake of electric vehicles.

These include:

- a purchase grant of up to €5,000

- Vehicle Registration Tax relief of up to €5,000

- the EV Home Charger grant of up to €600 towards the cost of the installation of a domestic charge point

- Zero per cent benefit-in-kind tax treatment for battery electric vehicles (BEVs)

- grants of up to €7000 for EVs for the taxi sector

- low rate of annual motor tax available (€120 a year for battery electric vehicles)

- accelerated capital allowances for businesses

-  tolling reductions (to be introduced this summer)

- a network of public charging points

Charge points

There is a network of publicly available charge points located throughout Ireland. Most of these are operated by the ESB, through its eCars programme. Although the existing capacity of the public-charging network is considered adequate, according to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, development of infrastructure to meet growing demand is necessary. 

There are currently no legal or regulatory barriers to the provision of public-charging services on a commercial basis by private operators and, as the electric vehicle market develops, it is likely there will be a range of different operators offering charging services. 

“A key aspect of the work of the Low Emission Vehicle Taskforce, which is co-chaired by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, is to devise a sustainable policy framework to ensure sufficient and effective electric vehicle charging infrastructure. This is likely to require the introduction of new support measures for public charging. In this regard, funding has been allocated in the department’s budget this year,” a spokesperson for the department said.

“Since the introduction of the EV purchase grant scheme in 2011, €15 million has been provided to support the purchase of over 3,000 new electric vehicles.  It is estimated that there are approximately 5,400 electric vehicles in total now operating on Irish roads.”

For more information on EVs, go to www.drivingelectric.ie