Transportation

Electric Cars Are Too Expensive For Many, But Retrofitting Could Be The Answer


Europeans on average earnings could soon be forced out of their cars and on to the bus by environmental rules effectively banning sales of cheap new internal combustion engines (ICE) in favor of unaffordable electric cars; but help is at hand.

Transition-One, a small start-up company from Orleans, France, is coming to the rescue with its plan to convert your small and popular ICE vehicle at a price you can afford and with a performance fit for most normal people’s local needs. Transition-One’s business is currently centered on France, but it has big ambitions to grow globally, CEO Aymeric Libeau said in an interview.  

Felipe Munoz, global automotive analyst at JATO Dynamics, said its plans are interesting.

“Easy and affordable, exactly what many consumers look for when buying a car and can’t find under the current electric new car market. Although the conversion results are not yet the best – range is still limited – it can become a serious alternative to those who don’t have the money to get an all-new electric city-car,” Munoz said.

At first, the conversion is only available for little cars like the Fiat 500, Renaults Clio, Twingo and Kangoo van, and BMW Mini. Transition-One hopes to reduce the conversion price to about €5,000 ($5,700). The cheapest battery-electric vehicle (BEV) is at least 3 times that amount.

The company website says this.

“French regulations have authorized the electric conversion or retrofit of a vehicle and state certain conditions. To be converted to electric, the internal combustion vehicle must be roadworthy, registered in France and more than 5 years old. We guarantee our retrofit 2 years unlimited mileage and our batteries 5 years or 100,000 km.”

The conversion provides 100 km of range (just over 60 miles) and a maximum speed of 110 km/h (just under 70 mph). That is ideal for a city car which will only be used for local commuting, the school run and shopping.

And here’s why Transition-One is maybe leaning on an open door.

Currently, sales of electric cars have been accelerating in Western Europe as early-adopters race to be trendy, but in 2022 the pace will slow. Auto consultancy Fitch Solutions says electric car sales in all of Europe jumped about 72% in 2021, but growth will slow significantly in 2022 to 28.4% for an annual volume of just over 3 million. Sales will run out of steam because the market has exhausted early adopters, while many big manufacturers are concentrating on selling as many ICE models before the next tightening of European Union (EU) carbon dioxide (CO) emissions in 2025.

Sales will be more difficult as the market broadens because there is a glaring hole at the bottom created by the high price of even the cheapest electric car which excludes those on average wages. EU rules are responsible for this because the industry negotiated a trade-off to enable it to make and sell high-end vehicles like the Audi e-tron, BMW iX and Mercedes EQS. The rules make it impossible to sell entry-level vehicles and make money. This gap was expected to be filled by cheap Chinese vehicles like the little FreZe Nikrob EV costing perhaps just under €10,000 ($12,000 after tax). This European version of China’s successful Hongguang MINI EV was said to be entering the market shortly but has apparently been slowed by the difficulty of meeting EU safety regulations. The little Citroen Ami, with a 5.5 kWh battery, range of 43 miles and a top “speed” of 28 mph isn’t ready for prime time yet. Doubling the range and top speed would do it though.

This presents a big opportunity for Transition-0ne, at least in the short term before cheap, new city cars become available.

Libeau talks passionately about retrofitting as an ecological transition project, rather than an urge just to sell electric conversions, and he sees this as a contribution to preserving the earth’s climate. He says this is part of the so-called circular economy.

The Ellen Macarthur foundation defines it thus; “In our current economy, we take materials from the Earth, make products from them, and eventually throw them away as waste – the process is linear. In a circular economy, by contrast, we stop waste being produced in the first place”.

Electric cars are being forced on Europeans not only because of EU rules making ICE cars unaffordable, but municipal regulations banning them from city centers. Big tax-payer subsidies are also offered for electric cars, despite their current huge cost.

“Conditions are becoming good in France. The regulations have been changed to allow these conversions. Incentives in the European Union are coming in the form of diesel bans, for example. The market is becoming huge and will always be complementary to the new car market,” Libeau said.

“Our mission is to convert 100,000 vehicles in 5 years in the EU and 10,000,000 by 2035 in the world. We need ambition to emerge from this critical phase in our ecological history. So, you will understand our ambition is global. We have designed a generic retrofit unit that can be adapted to a large number of vehicles in order to expand rapidly. In the U.S., we can already retrofit Fiat 500s and Minis. Then we could extend to small cars from Toyota, GM and Honda. This represents several million vehicles,” Libeau said.

Libeau said the price target for conversion is €5,000 with industrial scale, and government subsidies. He says the project is also about making sure cars are not simply junked when they become inconvenient. Retrofitting will maximise their useful life.

“Technically, it is possible to retrofit all vehicles. My dream is that all cars will never become rubbish,” Libeau said.

He said the EU can help accelerate the project by quickly implementing rules to make retrofitting easy, as has happened in France. Because adding the technology has no impact on the vehicles’ safety quality, crash testing is not required.

JATO’s Munoz said the economics of the venture appear attractive, with the cheapest electric car in France costing about 2.5 times the Transition-One conversion price.

“The conversion looks to be very competitive and I see a big opportunity for the public. There are many drivers out there that simply don’t have the money to buy a brand-new car. They have been driving their cars for years and are not interested in spending a lot for a new one. As the restrictions in mobility grow (in terms of much higher prices and restrictions on the use of ICE vehicles) they will need to find a solution, and this in my opinion is a very good one,” Munoz said.



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