Can Norman Crowley’s Electrifi bring car manufacturing back to Ireland’s future?

12 Apr 2019

Entrepreneur Norman Crowley with Health Minister Simon Harris, TD. Image: Paul Sherwood

From Ford to DeLorean, Ireland’s heritage in car manufacturing is about to be revived thanks to a new venture that will manufacture high-performance electric cars.

Enterprising entrepreneur Norman Crowley’s latest venture, Electrifi, plans to create more than 150 new jobs as part of a €50m investment, becoming the first company to manufacture cars in Ireland in almost 40 years.

Not since DeLorean closed its doors in the 1980s has anyone attempted to bring back car manufacturing at scale, but that is about to change.

‘I believe a revived car manufacturing industry in Ireland could easily employ more than 30,000 people and has the potential to generate annual revenues of over €10bn for the Irish economy’

Crowley, serial entrepreneur and founder of Inspired Broadcast Networks and Crowley Carbon, is hellbent on reviving car manufacturing in Ireland and creating a catalyst for others to follow.

Electrifi has already begun car manufacturing in Wales and the first cars that will be manufactured at a new plant in Powerscourt, Co Wicklow, will leave the Irish plant by the end of this year.

At first the company will focus on converting classic cars such as Ferraris, Aston Martins and Jaguars, from petrol-guzzlers to clean energy electric vehicles with all the torque of a Tesla and more, while maintaining their classical appearances.

But the company harbours a deeper ambition to build its own-brand electric super cars.

Crowley grew up in West Cork, not far from the ancestral home of Henry Ford. Ford’s first car plant outside the US was in Cork city and it closed its doors in 1984 after decades of producing iconic vehicles. Two years earlier, Belfast received the devastating news that the DeLorean manufacturing plant, which made the famous car in the Back to the Future movies, was to close its doors after the company went into bankruptcy.

If you’re going to build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?

Two men look under the hood of a Ferrari.

Entrepreneur Norman Crowley shows Health Minister Simon Harris, TD, how he converted a classic Ferrari into an electric vehicle. Image: Paul Sherwood

Crowley has a proven track record, having started and sold three businesses for more than $750m before the age of 40.

He established his fourth business, Crowley Carbon, in 2009 to work with optimising large production plants and commercial buildings to reduce their energy consumption and costs. He also established a not-for-profit foundation called Cool Planet Experience in 2015 to educate children and families in a fun and interactive way, located at the Powerscourt Estate in Wicklow. The plan is to roll out a further 10 education centres across the globe with a vision to engage the public and schools on matters relating to the impacts of global warming and the technologies and solutions that will help develop a carbon-free future.

Electrifi will initially take some of the world’s most iconic classic cars, from Ferrari and Lamborghini to Aston Martin, and modify them into electric vehicles with Formula One-style performance. The cars will be rebuilt and optimised with the latest technology and powered by Tesla batteries and motors. Electrifi is currently designing a new range of classic cars that will be fully electrified and revealed in early 2020.

The company says car prices will initially start at €750,000 for the higher-end models but cars in time will ultimately be available at entry level, starting at €30,000. The company has already sold out its delivery capacity for its high-model range for the next 18 months. The cars will be shipped to the UK, the Middle East and the US.

However, visitors to the company’s Powerscourt Estate headquarters will be able to view the cars up close, being hand-built and tested, from later this year.

“The global market opportunity in electric vehicles is predicted to top over $500bn between now and 2025,” Crowley explained.

“This potential for transformative change creates huge opportunities for both new and existing players in the automotive sector. I believe a revived car manufacturing industry in Ireland could easily employ more than 30,000 people and has the potential to generate annual revenues of over €10bn for the Irish economy.

“Ireland is a knowledge-based economy and, with our strong young talent pool, high education standards and reputation for ease of doing business, we are perfectly positioned to capitalise on the shift from polluting petrol cars to sophisticated digital vehicles.

“Who would have envisaged 30 years ago that our technology sector would employ almost 300,000 people in Ireland, and be seen as a global centre of excellence?”

Fair point. Now, let’s see what happens when an entrepreneur such as Crowley puts his pedal to the metal on making electric cars in Ireland.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years