The EV Powered Interview: The journey into EV with IRP Systems

EV Powered spoke with Paul Price, co-founder and CTO of electric powertrain specialists, IRP Systems, to discuss the journey of a company moving into the EV space.

IRP specializes in high-performance electric powertrain systems for a variety of e-mobility platforms, and having been founded in 2011, the company has overseen seismic shifts in the electric vehicle industry.

However, for co-founder and CTO Paul Price, the world of electric vehicles was never in his sights to begin with.

“I used to say if it moves and doesn’t make a sound, it’s broken,” Price said. “My background is in internal combustion engines. As a kid, I grew up in the motorsport industry with go-karting and RallyCross and since then I wanted to work in the automotive industry. It’s funny that today, all of our businesses are not making any noise and that is part of that cutting-edge technology and part of this evolution.”

So how, and why, did Price move over to the world of electric vehicles?

He said: “My background is mechanical engineering and software engineering. From 2010, we did electric motion systems for the aerospace industry. Weight and volume were super critical in this sector, as was cost, even though everybody thinks that aerospace is high-end and makes a lot of money, when in actual fact it doesn’t.

“All of these three aspects – volume, performance, and cost – led us to innovation in terms of electric powertrains and we had to develop and invent new technologies in this area.”

It was around 2015 when IRP Systems began implementing its new technologies and products into the motorsport industry. The company began making and selling its own products, developing a controller that was using third-party motors and was implemented into radio-controlled racing, which saw IRP win the World Championship in 2017.

Since then, the firm has moved onto developing powertrain technologies for e-scooters, motorbikes and, eventually, full-scaled battery-electric cars.

It has been a rapid scaling-up for the business, having only begun developing and introducing its new technologies to electric vehicles in 2015. However, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing, according to Price.

“Once you enter the automotive industry you have to move quickly,” he said. “We almost doubled ourselves every year in the past ten years and growing is a tough issue that you need to address.

“We are working with customers globally and last year with Covid, we have had to construct, install and integrate our parts around the world without visiting. We had no boots on the ground in APAC, in Europe, and we are doing everything remotely. We have developed this dramatically in the past year in order to support our customers.

More recently, Renault and Samsung have contributed to a multi-partner investment group that has put $31 million into IRP, with the aim of making EVs more attractive by installing affordable, high-efficiency motors and inverters – one of the big problems impacting EV take-up globally.

“We have to be able to answer the potentially huge customers and lead production,” Price said when asked how this investment will shape the future of his company. “This investment is to enhance our growth in several continents, supply chain and customer support and increase our R&D to accelerate the development of next-gen powertrain technologies.”

IRP Systems is at the centre of the rapidly evolving world of electric vehicles. As a company that has overseen some of the biggest changes and developments to the space, on a global scale, Price believes that the rise in EVs has enabled countries all over the world to catch up with the biggest producers of electric cars and electric vehicles.

He said: “In order to understand what we are doing, we have to look back at the history of automotive and understand the technical differences and barriers that still exist today for mass production.

“When you look at an ICE car, you have to understand that at one point there were hundreds and thousands of engineers developing petrol and diesel engines and working on ICE cars; a hundred years of legacy. Today, with electric vehicles, this doesn’t exist, there’s no legacy yet. In the past, you used to have the big OEMs producing products worldwide, and the EV sector has become an enabler for countries with no legacy in the automotive industry and with no know-how with ICE. They produced products that will be affordable and connect to the market. You can see that the EV industry in China is growing so quickly, and they don’t have any auto-industry legacy. It’s just the tip of the iceberg and it will be interesting to see in the next few years how this market develops and revolutionizes the mobility world.”