Brian Donaldson, CEO of The Maxol Group, has called on the Irish Government to work more closely with interested stakeholders in order to properly develop an adequate fast-charging network for electric vehicles.
Speaking at a media briefing in Dublin where he announced that the company wants to develop eight charging hubs on the island of Ireland next year, he said that the decision would be dependent on infrastructure capabilities, describing the project as “very challenging, capital intensive, and involving many stakeholders.”
“Companies like Maxol need to be part of the conversation, solution and transition to EV power,” he said, noting that current issues with adequate power supply to the national grid are a big concern. “We can supply EV solutions but the challenge is access into the grid and having power within the grid. So the issue is how to get power to the relevant locations and how to share those investment costs.”
The proposed Maxol EV charging hubs will be fitted with at least three 350KW fast chargers. With a single 350KW charger drawing as much power as 12 household users, Brian noted the high investment cost and infrastructure demands involved, including the installation of sub-stations, cabling and other structures. “The Government needs to get the power to the right locations,” he said. “We are happy to make the investment [in the rest of the infrastructure]”. Location is all important. “If you don’t have the right location as a starting point, you’re not going to be able to make it work.”
The EV charging stations are part of a €20 million investment programme by Maxol for 2022. The company has invested over €230 million in its network since 2012 as it transitions from a fuel brand selling food and grocery to a convenience food service brand that also sells fuel, along with other energies for mobility. Developments in 2021 have included the introduction of drive-thru Burger Kings, new indoor seating areas, extended outdoor seating areas, additional car parking spaces, car wash upgrades, the creation of more retail space, larger Maxol deli counters and the introduction of Premium fuel pumps to additional sites as part of Maxol’s carbon neutral programme, which sees 100% carbon emissions off-set on Premium fuel purchases.
Adding further choice for consumers, Brian announced that Maxol will be trialing Apache Pizza outlets (including home deliveries) in two locations in Dublin in the coming months, before deciding whether to roll out in additional locations. A loyalty app for customers is also due to be launched in the coming weeks.
Reporting a profit before exceptional items of €17.1m for 2020 (down 7.5% on 2019) Brian said that the pandemic had presented many challenges, but also created new opportunities. “[During the lockdown] people made less visits to shops but bought more. Many people didn’t want to shop in large, busier stores so their local Maxol became the go-to for their everyday essentials.” The first five months of 2021 were particularly tough but since then business has rebounded well, with staycations helping to drive strong growth in deli sales. Car washing was perhaps a surprising growth area, up 10% year-on-year. “During the lockdown restrictions, it was quite an occasion to take your car for a wash,” observed Brian. The company expects to clean over 600,000 cars this year, having invested €600K in rebranding and upgrading Maxol car wash facilities in 2021.
Returning to the theme of location, Brian feels that Maxol, with its network of 242 service stations around Ireland, is well placed to take advantage of the trend toward full or partial working from home. “We see this as a trend that is here to stay which means that stores in residential areas have a bigger customer base [than before Covid]. Maxol isn’t just a national brand, it’s a local brand. Our sites are run by local people, employing local people, serving local people. This model has served us well for more than 100 years and its vigour was tested, and resilience proven during the past 20 months.”
The Maxol Group is committed to reduce its carbon footprint by 90% by 2030. Brian outlined that there is a team in place looking at all aspects of its operations, while the company has engaged KPMG to work with it in this regard. It includes using renewable electricity at its charging points and innovative ideas in developing new sites such as the use of solar and wind energy and the installation of energy storage batteries that could help meet demand if the gird network supply is insufficient. On the subject of new sites, Brian is calling for a review of the retail planning guidelines which, he says, are too limiting to meet the needs of modern service stations and convenience stores. Cathal Doyle