Local governments in France are taking more and more action to lower CO2 emissions inside cities, driving demand for electric vehicles. Sales of new plug-in vehicles in January in France saw the market share grow by 50%. But with more than 1.5 billion vehicles on the road worldwide right now, an affordable and sustainable method of converting some of this fleet to electric could be one of the best ways to catalyze the adoption of electric vehicles.
In France, there are about 40 million vehicles, and in the best years about 2 million vehicles are sold each year, adding even more vehicles to this fleet. In April 2020, the French government issued a subsidy for the conversion of fuel vehicles to electric through retrofit (€5000 per vehicle). France’s recent homologation law allows the retrofit of ICE vehicles that are more than 5 years old and has opened up opportunities for firms to accelerate the conversion of these ICE vehicles to electric.
Transition-One is one of the firms taking advantage of France’s new homologation regulation and subsidies for conversions of ICE vehicles to EVs. Transition-One says it is offering an ecological transition solution for the automotive sector. Its drive is to produce these conversions at the cheapest possible cost, save carbon emissions and promote the circular economy. “With a global fleet of 1.5 billion vehicles already on the roads globally, buying new EVs alone will not reduce CO2 emissions fast enough. We need to accelerate the transition to low emission vehicles by repowering as much of the current fleet of ICE vehicles as possible,” says Aymeric Libeau, founder of Transition-One.
“The current culture in the ICE vehicle automobile sector is such that to get a new feature, automakers encourage you to buy a new car, which is not very sustainable. We want to help more people join in the more sustainable ecological transition by offering an affordable conversion solution. To do this we have chosen to focus on the most common and most popular light cars. 7 tonnes of CO2 are emitted to make a vehicle in the same segment as a new Renault ZOE. We would save a lot on emissions by converting a significant portion of the current fleet of these light vehicles that still have excellent bodies by just converting them to electric.
“Converting one Renault Clio emits only 2 tonnes, resulting in 5 tonnes being avoided when a conversion is chosen over a brand new car. Our main KPI is CO2 emissions saved. In Europe, cars emit about 1 tonne of CO2 for every 10,000 km. We have a very ambitious target. We want to help save 10,000,000 tonnes of CO2 globally by 2035. We need to be this bold in order to help fight climate change.
“We also optimise our supply chains to allow us to source most of our components locally thereby avoiding shipping components from faraway places. All our inverters are sourced locally, and battery packs are assembled locally. We plan to use the same model globally as we expand in future. We will have a franchise model where conversions are made by our partners. We have already identified over 1 000 potential partners. We will be having training and upskilling programmes in all the new markets when we enter any new market. We are also looking at expanding into Africa in the near future.”
The list of models Transition-One converts includes:
- Fiat 500
- Renault Twingo 2
- Mini Cooper
- Renault Kangoo
- Renault Clio 3
- Polo 4
The maximum speed of the converted vehicles is limited to 110 km/h. The specific focus on a few select models allows the company to optimize its conversion kits in line with homologation requirements. It worked on these models for more than 3 years, ensuring that it can now safely integrate its electric drivetrain and associated components to the vehicle’s electronics and air airbags systems for example.
Transition-One believes it will be able to offer the conversion for close to €7,000 to €8,000 in about 22 to 36 months. Its ultimate goal is for the full conversion to cost not more than €5,500 by 5 years from now. To achieve this, the team has worked on a “right-sizing approach” on the battery that would fit most people’s daily commute needs. In France, the average work commute is 26 km. Transition-One has therefore focused on a NMC battery pack that offers a maximum range of 100 km. Its goal is to make the entire conversion process not more than 4 hours per vehicle. This needs to be the case in order to push the volumes that will really make a difference. The company’s key focus is on automation and the industrialization of the conversion industry and moving it away from the traditional bespoke, hobbyist market of conversion of classic cars that can take 3 or 4 days to convert one car. Transition-One is currently fundraising and is looking for about $8 million to scale its operations.
I am a big fan of conversions. I am excited at the prospect of converting a typical 5-year-old urban vehicle like a Mini Cooper for the price of a Wuling Mini EV. Conversions have always been considered to be quite expensive. If companies such as Transition-One can succeed in this space in the short term, it could really make a difference and open up opportunities for employment creation around the globe and especially in developing countries. I hope more countries follow France and come up with enabling environments to encourage the conversion of of ICE vehicles to electric.
All images courtesy of Transition-One