Driving the electric revolution

June 2, 2016

Hyperdrive Innovation is fast becoming one of the key names in the region’s growing electric vehicle sector, enjoying relationships with automotive giants like Nissan and working on projects around the world. Deborah Johnson speaks to its managing director, Stephen Irish, to find out more.

Back in the days when electric cars were more the stuff of sci-fi films than something you’d realistically expect to see on the roads, Stephen Irish could already see their potential. More than 20 years ago, while at university, he wrote his thesis on electric and hybrid powered vehicles, and the huge impact they would one day have on the future of transport.

“Back then, the market wasn’t quite ready for my ideas – I’ve had to wait quite a long time to be proved right,” he smiles.

“But electric vehicles have now become commonplace in a variety of sectors and uses, and into the future, I would imagine the majority of cars will be hybrid at least. It’s certainly a fast growing and fast moving industry to be involved in, but there’s no better place than the North East to be part of it.”

Hyperdrive Innovation, the business founded by Stephen and business partner Chris Baylis, is fast becoming a key player in the region’s burgeoning sector. It works internationally on a range of sector-leading initiatives and works closely with Nissan, enjoying a two-way relationship with the motoring giant to bring products to market through the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC) programme.

The company, founded in Sunderland in 2012, designs and builds lithium ion battery packs for automotive, industrial and marine use, as well as pioneering other complementary aspects including range extenders for electric vehicles, to allow them to run longer between charges. Already it employs more than 20 people, manufactures its products on-site, and crucially is a leading light in research and development (R&D) in the UK and internationally.

Boldly, the business says its aim is to supply technology to every electric vehicle in the world. But backed by Stephen’s experience and expertise, combined with the progress Hyperdrive Innovation has made so far in raising a further £3.2m – it has secured R&D funding from the APC and InnovateUK, plus a recent funding round investment – that need not be a pipe dream.

From a family of engineers, Stephen’s passion lay in motoring, so it was natural that his career should combine the two. His vast credentials include developing the electric differential (E-diff) on the rear axle of high-performance Jaguars, refining the steering on the BMW Mini, and helping to pioneer the Caparo T1 supercar – also bagging the “best job I’ve ever had” along the way, testing cars on terrains including the frozen lakes of Scandinavia.

Having spent most of his career working with car manufacturers in the Midlands, Stephen moved to the North East to found Hyperdrive Innovation.

“Right from the earliest days when I was working on my thesis, I have known the potential for electric vehicles, so at some point that was always what I wanted to work on,” says Stephen.

“When we founded Hyperdrive Innovation back in 2012, it was still quite early days – Nissan’s battery plant wasn’t yet open, so the decision to base in Sunderland was not to be close to them, although a relationship has developed since that time. This is a very pro-industry region which is known the world over for its shipbuilding and heavy industry heritage, and now is becoming known for its work in electric vehicles. As someone who is not originally from this region, the support and welcome we have received has been fantastic.

“Our outreach is certainly international; we work with manufacturers and are part of projects around the world. Our ambition to supply technology to every electric vehicle in the world is something we are working towards, and see that being achieved through a variety of means, including direct supply, forming joint ventures and licensing our designs for use.”

Keen to help pave the way for future R&D and progress in the electric vehicles sector in the North East, Stephen is a passionate supporter of the region’s industry and the company is a member of the North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA). Hyperdrive Innovation is also committed to employing apprentices, offering work placements to university students, and the team is a keen backer of the Greenpower Education Trust, which promotes sustainable engineering to children and young people.

“Chris [Baylis] in particular is actively involved in speaking to schools and universities, alongside working with Greenpower, so we are trying to help pave the way for the future. This is a great place to be based and as we grow, we hope to continue to recruit from this region as we work on an increasingly international scale.”