Will retrofitting speed-up the E-mobility transition?

by Niccolò Ferrari


In Europe alone, there are 250 million circulating, and supposedly functioning, vehicles. In The United States of America, 270 million. Out of this half billion, just a tiny fraction consists of electric cars or trucks. Since legislations, automotive companies and technological progress are pushing towards an electrical revolution and promoting new electric vehicle sales, a few heavy, but non-negligible question should ring in the minds of mindful consumers: “what about the old vehicles that will be scrap? Do they really have to be scrapped? What would the environmental impact of this transition be? Am I doing the most environmental-conscious decision by purchasing a new electric car?”

Moreover, nowadays every person looking to buy a new car, could choose from a very wide and interesting EVs catalogue, from tiny city cars such as the FIAT 500e, to high performance sedans such as the Porsche Taycan, or Tesla Model S.  But nothing costs less than 20 thousand dollars. To successfully complete an electric revolution, there must be a cheaper alternative to this.

But is there a single solution to both problems? 

A flourishing niche of electric mobility is the so-called “Retrofitting” industry. Companies that offer conversion kits for perfectly functioning vehicles, that would otherwise end up polluting the world, not through the road, but through their graveyard. Producing vehicles has an environmental impact often neglected by industry, legislators, and final customers. Scrapping such vehicles, that unless for their ICE-nature, are perfectly fine, would have a catastrophic impact. Start-ups and established manufacturers are developing and already offer concrete solutions, to convert existing ICE vehicles to electric or eco-friendlier ones. 

MAGNA, world leader of automotive powertrain components, such as gearboxes, developed the EtelligentForce force 4x4 powertrain system. A conversion kit developed for trucks and pickups, that replaces the original powertrain with an electric one, without needing to replace or modify the original braking and suspension assembly. This solution also gives a noticeable advance: torque vectoring and in electric traction control, which could become very useful for off-road vehicles on low-grip roads and trails.

Considering growing start-ups, the French retrofitting industry is booming, also driven by legislations if compared to other countries.

As an example, Phoenix Mobility is already retrofitting commercial vehicles, such as Renault Trafic or similar, with electric powertrains. Unfortunately, milage is still quite low for this kind of application, since less than 200 kms does not allow for a full day of deliveries in most cases. 

Considering personal use vehicles, one of the most interesting companies is TRANSITION-ONE. A French company that sells conversion kits for already 6 commonly sold vehicles, such as Fiat 500, Mini Cooper, Renault Clio and VW Polo. They offer a complete service, from the initial inspection (the car must be at least 5 years old and in good mechanical condition) to the final delivery. With ranges of around 200 kms and a 5-hour complete recharge, these converted cars can fulfil daily activities for most of the users. And all of this for exactly 5000 euros. Way cheaper than a new car, right?

Finally, a curious and fun niche of retrofitting is the vintage cars resto-mod scene. Although quite controversial, the idea of driving a, say, 1984 electric Porsche in the streets the city centre is quite appalling to some. Emission legislations hit on vintage cars too and companies like Retrofuture, also from France, already offer conversion kits for some of the most loved models. Of course, the budget requires bigger pockets than the average. But in case spare parts, or replacement engines become rarer, this might be a concrete alternative to keep those beautiful machines running on the road.

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