“The background for how we got here stems from a question we were asked five or six years ago by our customers: ‘what can you advise us on how we can transition to zero-emission vehicles?’ That’s where the business idea came from” says Sid Sadique, chairman of Electra Commercial Vehicles; a former apprentice mechanic who describes himself simply as ‘a truck guy’.
Despite reaching out to long-term partners for help and guidance, he was met by confusion. “While legislation was pushing us down a certain path, the manufacturing capability was disjointed” says Sid, who saw an opportunity to take action. “We, as a small independent manufacturer, could start to build these vehicles.” As a result, Electra Commercial Vehicles was born and became the first manufacturer in the UK of both electric and hydrogen fuel-cell electric HGVs.
Working with leading vehicle manufacturers, Blackburn-based Electra developed chassis which they could then fit with their unique electric propulsion system, creating zero-emission vehicles 7.5 tonnes and above. Despite the ‘sustainability demand’, they still faced the challenge of convincing customers to make the leap. “This is a new technology…we took a decision to build trial vehicles for customers and got them used to electric vehicles. What we’ve got to remember is we’ve used diesel or petrol vehicles for decades and moving to an electric process took customers by surprise. Doing what we’ve done is ground-breaking but that was a challenge.”
Sid and his team required funding to help them meet these new challenges and he describes the initial stages of looking for support as “a lonely journey because this is a new industry” however he found a like-minded partner in Aldermore. Aldermore worked with Electra’s customer to finance the production of electric waste lorries for City of London, as part of its bid to become net-zero by 2030 and to replace all its diesel vehicles with alternative propulsion versions. “Aldermore really understood the need for investment in this sector. A lot of funders are a little bit nervous, whereas Aldermore understood the market and were listening to customers about the drive for zero emissions. I remember bringing them to our factory and they were amazed by what we were doing.”
The business is now in, what Sid describes as ‘scale-up mode; keeping the pedal to the metal’, as they take advantage of the boom in demand for electric vehicles. He’s hopeful that more SMEs will find a place for themselves in the UK’s green transformation. “The people are pushing the agenda and it will create further jobs, spawn new companies and I think that’s a good thing all around.” He also hopes these new industries will create more opportunities for people: “We are taking on apprentices to train them in this new technology. There isn’t a ready-made person out there; we’re involved in hydrogen; we’re involved in electric and high voltage. We’re developing a three-year apprenticeship course with Bolton University to teach people about ‘future fuels’. So hopefully there’ll be more Sids out there that we can find to build the business”.