Converting combustion-powered cars into electric cars, a sector of the future



The car looks like a proud sedan powered by a good old heat engine. Only no hum, no exhaust fumes: the original combustion engine has been replaced by an electric motor. In the jargon, the operation is called “retrofit”.

A legal process for a year

The industry is still young, the conversion process has only been legal in France for a year. But transformative entrepreneurs have not been idle. ” The past year has enabled us to set up an industrial process for transforming cars. Today we are ready to convert vehicles into series ”, explains Antoine Desferet, co-founder of Pheonix Mobility, one of the players in this emerging market.

For reasons of competition and liability, it was forbidden in France since 1954 to change the engine of a vehicle without the agreement of the manufacturer. It took years of activism and an awareness of the need to green mobility for a decree of April 3, 2020 to authorize the practice. Arnaud Pigounides, president of the AIRe association, which brings together players in the sector, is one of the pioneers of the movement. ” Mobility needs to be decarbonized! There are thousands of vehicles to convert. The deadline is simple, within three years, 35 city centers will have banned old vehicles with their low emission zones.

If you invest in a gasoline car now, in a few years, with the ban on heat engines in built-up areas, it will no longer be worth anything, abounds Antoine Desferet. There is an urgent need to offer a solution for these vehicles.

Solutions for all stakeholders

Companies in the sector specialize. NOIL chose the conversion of two wheels. ” We renovate old vehicles abandoned because expensive to maintain and prohibited to traffic in the city, explains Victor Breban, co-founder. But also modern scooters which pose problems for Crit’Air stickers. “Arnaud Pigounides, also president of the Retrofuture structure, targets in particular” fun cars “, Often old:” With a new electric motor, individuals no longer have problems with breakdowns “.

Antoine Desfrenet is convinced that the market will take off first among professionals, who are less inclined to change their mobility practices: “ We turn to businesses and artisans who are faced with low emission zones in cities but cannot do without their utility vehicles.

Go to the mechanic

For vehicle owners interested in the conversion, go to partner garages. ” We see if the vehicle is in a state to be converted, details Victor Breban. If this is the case, we remove the heat engine, the exhaust, the lead battery… Anything that is not useful for electric circulation! We install a lithium-ion battery and all the elements necessary for electrical circulation ”.

And on the invoice side? If it takes several hundred euros for a moped, the operation climbs quickly in price. ” For a medium-sized van, the operation costs, deduction of subsidies included, around € 15,000 », Affirms Antoine Desferet, knowing that the price of a new model amounts to around 40,000 €.

Vehicles soon on the roads

Companies must receive the stamp from the Ministry of Ecological and Inclusive Transition before they can put the vehicles thus transformed into circulation.

Today, there are no vehicles in circulation yet. But the approval phase is coming to an end for some players in the sector and the first converted vehicles should, within a few weeks, hit the roads. ” We have finished the tests, if all goes well we will have the approval of the Solex and Peugeot 103 next week! “Enthuses Victor Breban. ” The Renault Trafic (a very widespread utility, Editor’s note) should be approved within a few weeks, continues Antoine Desferet. We will be able to have a vehicle approved every three months. By the end of the year we will have a whole range of utilities.

Soon 30 companies

Optimism is in order, especially as state aid has helped boost the sector despite the Covid. “ We hope to transform 400,000 cars in five years, explains Arnaud Pigounides president of AIRe. Currently there are 15 companies in France, we will be 30 by the end of the year. We go beyond the circular economy, we save CO2. If you convert a utility vehicle at mid-life, that is to say after 8-10 years, the carbon footprint of the vehicle is halved.

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