Special Reports
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 do not have editorial control.

Sustainable transport is coming – just not fast enough

The trends in transport coming down the tracks and what impacts these changes will have on all of us

Are electric cars set to become less expensive?

Electrification of the national fleet

In transport there is only one direction of travel – towards sustainability; and the biggest trend in that direction is the electrification of the national fleet.

In 2019 around 3,000 electric vehicles were sold. This year it will be around 20,000. There are currently around 100,000 EVs on the road but the scope for growth is enormous, considering there are 2.3 million cars here in total.

The Government’s target is to get to just under 200,000 EVs on the road by 2025. By the end of 2030, every new vehicle will be electric, ensuring 840,000 vehicles – or one third of all cars on the road – are EVs. By 2045 the aim is to get that to 100 per cent.

The biggest drag on progress here, as it will be globally, is commercial vehicles.


“The commercial side is slower because, for a start, with EV vans battery packs have to be heavier to get the required range,” says Brian Cooke, director general of motoring lobby group the Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI).

“Secondly, downtime with a private vehicle is one thing – with a commercial vehicle, it’s another. Charging up takes time and, with commercial vehicles, time is money.”

That’s just light commercials. The challenge facing heavy goods vehicles is even greater.

“Dublin Bus is leading the charge on this front, having bought a number of electric buses not yet in operation. However, for HGVs, we are likely to see the internal combustion engine continue for much longer and, ultimately, the green solution they will go for will probably be hydrogen,” says Cooke.

Hydrogen buses

Japan has pioneered mass adoption of hydrogen buses. In Northern Ireland, public transport provider Translink also has buses powered by hydrogen. But putting a hydrogen infrastructure in place is challenging and will take time, Cooke predicts.

In the meantime, the biggest factor affecting sustainable transport remains buying an EV.

“EVs are a lot more expensive,” SIMI’s director general adds. “The key to electrification of the national fleet will come when we get to the stage where we have a second-hand EV market, which should happen by next year, particularly where there are PCPs (personal contract purchase) cars coming back on to the market. Most people purchase a used car, so that will help democratise EVs.”

Currently the average price of a new EV is €50,000-plus, for a family car. Even though most people will have a trade-in to reduce that, it’s still a hefty chunk of change. What’s more, Cooke points out, “interest rates are going up at the wrong time for this, given that a large portion of people buy a car with finance”.

Lower costs

The unsnarling of global supply chain issues post-Covid will help. “A couple of brands will be launching city car EVs next year, priced in the €25,000-to-€30,000 bracket,” says Cooke, who predicts changes too in how some people purchase their cars.

Just 15 years ago most people purchased a car with a loan or on hire purchase. The advent of the personal contract purchase allowed people to access a vehicle at a lower price, through a combination of deposit and residual “balloon” payments.

In the future, Cooke believes, we will see more personal leases, where people simply lease a car, with no ownership ambition at the end of it. This will work well for EVs, he predicts, because even with the increased price of electricity they are still cheaper to run than internal combustion engine cars.

Subscription-based car usage

He also predicts a rise in subscription-based car usage, similar to that already offered by the likes of Go Car, among young people. “Though by the time they have families they tend to need a car of their own,” he points out.

While government supports for EVs won’t go on forever, the industry is hoping that cutting them off is not a trend that will happen any time soon.

“In the last three to four years people who bought an EV were those who really wanted to and could afford it,” says Cooke.

“Now we are getting to the stage where we need more people to come on board. We are close to a tipping point but we need to keep those inducements in order to sell more EVs, which in turn will release more EVs into the second-hand market.”

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell is a contributor to The Irish Times