Just what is it about Ireland that is attracting a virtual stampede of automakers to its shores with a view to developing electric vehicles?
No sooner has the ink barely dried on Renault-Nissan’s EV venture on the Emerald Isle than Mitsubishi has also unveiled an MOU with multiple Irish partners to trial its i-MiEV across the country.
But why Ireland? It’s taken almost as severe an economic battering as Greece with all the unemployment implications, drastic pruning of public services and a thoroughly gloomy outlook that goes with the current Euro bashing.
The key appears to lie in a combination of population dispersal, demographics and a willingness to embrace a new outlook.
“From our point of view Ireland is well suited to EV trialling as it has a relatively small, highly urban population,” a Mitsubishi Ireland spokesman told just-auto.
That youthfulness – Ireland has famously enjoyed immigration pre-recession rather than emigration – has led to a mindset more in tune with environmental concerns.
But there’s also another essential attraction that will be fascinating to see if it translates to other European urban centres.
In common with its neighbour across the water, Ireland has relatively little high rise accommodation. ‘An Irishman’s home is his castle’ may be extrapolating the English analogy a bit far but go to most Irish cities and towns and they are overwhelmingly based on terraced housing rather than sky high blocks.
This has a profound effect on EV vehicles. With charging infrastructure key to electric success Ireland’s ribbon-development housing – and the UK’s for that matter – gives relatively easy access to kerbside charging facilities.
Clusters of tower blocks, a blight common in most European cities but particularly in former Soviet countries, could make mass, rapid charging an issue. Picture the scene at 8am on a Monday morning if 500 people from just one block want to simultaneously charge their cars.
Irish architecture is not necessarily utopia but it just might allow for a more readily practical solution to kerbside power generation.
Mitsubishi also has an inbuilt advantage when it comes to Ireland. The Japanese manufacturer made 1,400 i-MiEV’s late last year for sale in its home market, but the Irish division was able to capitalise on similar right-hand drive capability to launch its own testing mainly in Dublin.
“Japan and Ireland are both right hand drive so we had an opportunity to get our hands on a quantity of vehicles,” the Mitsubishi spokesman added.
Apart from that happy coincidence, Mitsubishi’s target customer – young, outward looking – tend to live in concentrated urban pockets – just the sort of purchaser the automaker is aiming for with its 130km range.
This, coupled with Ireland’s main electricity generator ESB’s impressive willingness to roll up its sleeves and and collaborate with EV manufacturers, is also forcing the pace at a dramatic rate.
Oh and some decent incentives from the government – even in these cash-strapped times – including a not insignificant EUR5,000 ($6,200) grant per vehicle, as well as vehicle registration tax exemption that sweetens the medicine of a relatively high purchase price.
Mitsubishi concedes the Irish government’s stated target that 10% of all vehicles on Ireland’s roads should be electric by 2020 is ambitious, but is nonetheless “eminently achievable.”
And the fact the company is looking to produce 40,000 i-MiEVs in the next 18 months gives an indication of just how commercially successful Mitsubishi believes the venture will be despite its foray into the unknown.
There is one Irish precedent into its own unknown that illustrates a willingness to embrace new thinking. Four years ago Ireland introduced a carbon tax on all plastic bags – the first country in Europe to do so – but far from simply denting the habit supermarkets reported a staggering 90% fall in bag use.
There’s one more reason why Ireland might just be looking at a runaway success here. The country’s strapped for cash, belts are being tightened in every direction and oil prices are going through the roof.
Mitsubishi estimates that for an i-MiEV operating at its full range of 130km, it would need to be charged overnight using a domestic charger. The cost?