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Published on July 12th, 2020 | by Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai


France’s Recent Order Liberalizing Retrofits Of Old ICE Vehicles Supercharges Phoenix Mobility’s Ambitions For Mass EV Conversions

July 12th, 2020 by  

We just love hearing about EV conversions. This is an industry that promises to play a major role in accelerating the transition to electromobility. At the right scale and when applied to the right segments best fit for the target markets, what was once a niche product for collectors’ items such as restored classic cars and a badge of honor for a merry band of hobbyists could be a game changer. EV conversions will allow a broader consumer base to afford decent electric vehicles.

The transition to electromotility is happening much faster than we thought. Affordable mass EV conversions will put this transition into Ludicrous mode. A French EV conversion firm, Phoenix Mobility, is looking to scale up its B2B fleet conversion business. Focusing on fleets on the B2B side makes a lot of sense for several reasons: 

  1. It gives the best ROI (professionals use their vehicles more than private customers) and the TCO looks even better for higher mileage fleet operators.
  2. It gives the best environmental impact (they can convert whole fleets).
  3. It answers a legal problem where professionals are facing restrictions and regulations in a bid to cut emissions and need these kind of solutions to adapt quickly enough towards eMobility.

Phoenix Mobility is the first company to deliver a converted car to government since the law on homologation was passed. It delivered a converted Renault Kangoo to the City of Grenoble. 

Eric Piolle (mayor of Grenoble) receiving the Kangoo converted by Phoenix Mobility. Image courtesy of Phoenix Mobility.

The city of Grenoble is also the first city to have a retrofitted vehicle in its fleet since the new regulation. 

“We are a mission driven company” says Antoine Desferet, Co-founder and COO of Phoenix Mobility. “Our mission statement is making mobility cleaner and more accessible. This is what we do with our retrofit technology. We reduce the CO2 emissions of producing a new EV by half and the cost of accessing an equivalent EV by over 30%. It is important to consider that the cost of EV is its first barrier to adoption. We are aiming to make it more accessible and to accelerate the transition as we don’t have a lot of time left if we want to mitigate climate change.”

On savings (excluding the public subsidy) Phoenix Mobility says it has developed case studies showing just how EV conversions can be financially interesting for their clients. The goal was to bring to light a payback period, which is the period necessary to have a positive ROI on your investment in electric vehicles. Typical examples of the paybacks based on Phoenix Mobility’s studies are:

  1. Renault Kangoo: payback period is ~6 years vs 10 years if you buy a new EV
  2. Renault Master: payback is ~4 years vs ~8.4 years if you buy a new EV
  3. Renault Traffic: payback period is ~2.8 years 

“These calculations are based on the current actual cost. With time, research and volume, we’ll divide our cost by ~2 so payoff time will be even shorter in the future.”

The French government has issued a subsidy for the conversion of fuel vehicles to electric through retrofit (€5,000/vehicle). Local governments are taking more and more action to lower CO2 emissions inside the cities.

Paris is the best known example, Grenoble is also very interesting on that point. The subsidy can get between €4,000–6,000 in the Metropole of Grenoble to retrofit your car. This kind of public policy design is spreading all over France. At the end of the day, you can have a ~€10,000 subsidy to convert your car through retrofit. 

A converted Renault Clio. Image courtesy of Phoenix Mobility.

The new regulation is a game changer. France was a country with a lot of constraints for retrofit. “We needed to have the OEM agreement to retrofit a car. This has changed in April 2020. Now we can homologate our own vehicles in series. It completely liberalized French market and made it the best place in Europe to launch a retrofit company.”

It takes 3–5 days to do a conversion at the moment. Phoenix is currently working on industrializing the solution. By the beginning of 2021, it will take just a day for the whole conversion. The company is scaling up its conversion capacities, and what is really interesting here is that it is working to make its kits installable by someone else. At the same time, it is building a network of garages that can become installers. Right now, the company has over a hundred garages in its database and is launching campaigns to sign them up all over France and then expand across Europe.

Image courtesy of Renault

The standard conversion kits for the Clio and the Kangoo feature 24 kWh battery packs because it answers to the precise needs of their clients, who are mainly driving in urban areas during the day. And it also keeps the price of the conversions at a decent price point as the battery pack is the major driver of the total cost. The company also offers different kWh options for the other kits: 18 and 24 kW for the Kangoo, 31 and 42 kWh for the Traffic, 31 and 63 kWh for the Renault Master. They can also customize the kWhs to answer to the needs of the client.

“French law forbids us to have more than a 20% spread compared to the original weight of the vehicles we convert so we have to target customers that have a usage of their vehicles compatible with our possibilities. For range we can do 150 to 300 km depending on the pack chosen by the client. For power and torque it varies depending on the kit we install. Just a thing on power: homologation law forbids us to go above the previous power of the vehicle. So, we do an exact match of the previous power.”

The company uses the LiFePO4 battery chemistry for its packs. This LiFePO4 chemistry is a favorite of many conversion firms. Some of them get prismatic cells from Chinese manufacturers such as CALB.

The LiFePO4 chemistry is experiencing a renaissance with large OEMs now using improved flavors of this chemistry with much higher energy densities for some of their flagship vehicles. The BYD Han goes on sale soon and it features the revolutionary Blade Battery in Cell-To-Pack configuration. Tesla is also using LiFePO4 from CATL in its made in China Model 3.

e-Car Namibia’s “eCruiser.” Image courtesy of e-Car Namibia.

EV conversions really look like they are finally going to mainstream. Another firm in Kenya, Opibus, is scaling up EV conversions in Nairobi. In Namibia, e-Car Namibia is doing the same. In Kenya, Opibus is also focusing on public service fleet operators such as motorcycle taxis and minibuses that have high vehicle utilization rates which present a strong business case to convert their fleet to electric. If we can see such progressive policies and even subsidies similar to those offered in France here in Africa, conversions will definitely go mainstream.

Featured image & top 2 images courtesy of Phoenix Mobility. 


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About the Author

Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai has been fascinated with batteries since he was in primary school. As part of his High School Physics class he had to choose an elective course. He picked the renewable energy course and he has been hooked ever since. At university he continued to explore materials with applications in the energy space and ending up doing a PhD involving the study of radiation damage in High Temperature Gas Cooled Nuclear Reactors. He has since transitioned to work in the Solar and Storage industry and his love for batteries has driven him to obsess about electric vehicles.

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