Yorkshire Post’s Business Editor Visits Magtec

By Beth Machin

October 17, 2022

Inside the Yorkshire company powering the nation’s electric vehicle revolution

Linen trucks for the Welsh NHS, open-top buses for Oxford tourists and bin lorries serving York are all on display at the South Yorkshire factory of Magtec – a company profiting from rocketing commercial interest in converting fleets to electric vehicles – By Chris Burn

While much of the focus on the shift from diesel and petrol vehicles to their electric counterparts has understandably been on the consumer car market, similar moves are gathering pace among both private sector companies and public sector organisations who are increasingly keen to turn their net zero promises from words into action. That trend has been very positive news for Magtec, which was founded back in 1992 by the far-sighted Sheffield University lecturer Marcus Jenkins, who managing director Andrew Gilligan describes as “an innovator and an inventor”. The company – which designs, manufactures and supplies electric vehicle drive systems and complete EVs greater than seven tonnes for the commercial vehicle, rail, defence and logistics industries – has benefited from being well ahead of the curve as available technology, changing consumer preferences and climate change concerns means demand for their products has never been greater.

Since 2019 when the company had 50 workers, the firm has seen its product sales revenue double year-on-year and last year it moved from its two bases in Sheffield and Rotherham to an expanded facility in the latter town. It now employs

more than 160 people with a further 14 vacancies, has forecast revenues of £22m and an order book of £30m. Gilligan, who himself joined Magtec in 2019 after previous roles at Rolls-Royce Aerospace and David Brown Gear Systems, explains: “We started 30 years ago as a small operation really focused on engineering and R&D activity, developing traction motors and magnetic equipment.”

“Over time Marcus has developed technology that has been used in demonstration vehicles, such as buses and military applications. Probably over the past five to seven years the technology is at a point now where it is probably equal to, if not better than, diesel and petrol technology. So the rate of growth of Magtec has been quite significant and that is why I joined the business three-and-a-half years ago.” Gilligan says the firm’s growth could be even bigger with some adjustments to current market conditions. I guess the throttle is really around the ability of the global supply chain to furnish the EV market in the UK. So a lot of the components we buy in come from Asia. We need to be developing that capability back in the UK because the restrictions on supply have been so significant in the past two years.”

Despite its needs for overseas imports, around 45 per cent of Magtec’s supply chain is based within one hour of Rotherham, with one-quarter of it being within the South Yorkshire region. It also provides highly-skilled jobs – with 60 engineers in the team, many who have PhDs. Gilligan says that companies and councils are increasingly catching up with consumer demand for electric vehicles.

“A lot of people already drive electric cars and I do. But within the commercial vehicle world there is a still a reluctance to take the technology on because there were concerns about capability and infrastructure.” “The luxury of Magtec is we have been in business for 30 years developing the technology. Unfortunately the market wasn’t ready but when the tide did turn we were right in the sweet spot to bring it to market. We’ve been very successful in winning a number of key clients in this sector.”

“A lot of companies and councils are seeing the adoption of this technology as being the right course of action. Not just for decarbonisation and green reasons but it also makes business sense.” “We provide a 300 kilowatt drive system to a manufacturer of refuse collection vehicles in the UK. Those vehicles can do 14 hours in service and around 2,500 bin lifts in a single day. With logistics trucks for the NHS we’ve packaged them up to do around 150 miles on a single charge.”

The NHS project involves an initial 10 vehicle trial to understand what the vehicles are capable of and what charging infrastructure will be required. The lorries are in the final stages of testing before being delivered in November.

“We would like to work with the NHS in the UK to understand what needs they have and expand that relationship.”

Magtec is capable of both “repowering” existing vehicles to make them electric or installing new vehicles with their systems. Gilligan says he is proud to work for a company which appears to have a genuinely exciting future. “To be leading a business that stands in front of all of this opportunity is very exciting. The team around me are here because of the impact they can have on their region. The introduction of ground-breaking technology will ultimately lead to a better standard of living for all of us.” While Magtec’s systems are being used by an increasing number of councils nationally – including in bin lorries in Westminster “on the most prestigious refuse collection round in the UK”, Gilligan is particularly keen to do more with local councils and mayors in Yorkshire. While York use their systems and Barnsley has made orders, Gilligan says the company hopes to have a bigger role in the regional decarbonisation strategy – particularly around buses, heavy commercial and waste management.

“There are certain councils in the UK that are leaders on this agenda. In Yorkshire, we generally seem to be a bit behind the curve but we would like to do more.”

When it comes to persuading prospective public and private sector clients to make the move to electric, Gilligan has a simple strategy.

“The main focus is to get them here, let them see the products and test drive the vehicles. When they get behind the wheel, they understand they are not complicated and they tend to get quite excited about what they are driving.”

As he stands on the factory floor observing the hive of activity unfolding around him, Gilligan says with a smile: “This thing exists in Yorkshire. It is here, it is growing and we have the technology to electrify the UK. We should be proud of that.”

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