Tom Finnegan wants to do what no one has done in Ireland for over 30 years: build a car.
Not just any car, but Ireland’s first home-designed electric vehicle.
It comes after years of tinkering away on an early prototype in his garage. “My original idea was to write a book about how to make one,” said Finnegan. “Then I began thinking of it as something I could eventually make money out of.”
Finnegan is working with the Irish company Swift Composite Prototypes, a specialist in wind turbine blades and vehicle components. The two were connected through a ‘dating service’ programme run by the EU called Vital, which matched people with promising business plans with bigger companies.
Finnegan hopes his two-seater car, to be called Alex, will be ready by the end of next year, when it will go on sale for around €30,000.
Without a history in building cars, Swift’s factory floor will not resemble those of BMW or Volkswagen - at least not initially. “We’re taking a different approach from modern carmakers,” said Finnegan. In place of an industrial production line run by robots, the Alex car will be an old-school affair involving the meticulous assembly of parts, that Finnegan says resemble “IKEA-like flat packs”.
Most of the components have been sourced in Ireland but Danish company Ecomove will provide the car’s lightweight chassis made from material used in bulletproof vests, making it as light as possible while giving the same strength as steel.
By using light-weight composite materials, Finnegan thinks Alex will travel for something like 250-300 kilometres between charges. “The perception of poor range in electric cars still exists. We hope to change that,” he said.
For extra design inspiration, there is one obvious place to look. Tesla boss Elon Musk surprised industry watchers last year by opening his company's entire patent portfolio to all-comers, in a bid to encourage automakers to look beyond fossil fuels.
Finnegan had a look at the IP. “We didn’t find a lot we could borrow, to be honest. There’s three or four ideas there maybe… so I guess we’ll be following a little on his coat tails,” he said.
In addition to getting the bodywork right, there was another task which needed attention.
“We had difficulty picking a name,” Finnegan admitted. After several rounds of suggestions, a researcher from Dublin City University who is collaborating on the project, came up with Alex. “We needed a four letter word and Alex can either be a woman or a man. It’s growing on me – I didn’t like it at the beginning.”
Ireland was previously home to a futuristic car manufacturing and assembly industry – albeit, not a very successful one.
The cult gull-winged DeLorean, driven by Marty McFly in the time-travelling ‘Back to the Future’ franchise, was manufactured in Belfast from 1981 to 1983. Before that, in the 1950s, was the even-shorter-lived luxury Shamrock car. Only around 10 were ever made, with production ceasing due to design flaws. The last car plant in Ireland, owned by Ford, closed in 1984.
Concept art of Finnegan’s ‘Alex eroadster’