Will The Retrofit EV Conversion Industry All End In Tears?

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From Ewan McGregor to Harry & Meghan, classic cars converted to electric are becoming all the rage. And why not? So many vintage vehicles are beautiful but unreliable. Remove a smelly, expensive engine and replace it with a smooth electric motor and battery pack. You give the car another 50 years of life, what’s not to love? But how long will it last? Is this a flash in the pan for classic car enthusiasts as legislation and conformity come knocking at the door?

Photo by eDub services

Retrofitting cars with 100% electric power is a reasonably new field in the vehicle modification industry, and as more technology and training comes along it is becoming more and more viable every year. EV West, the premier parts supplier in the US, was established in 2010 after its founder made a gamble (which paid off) and bought a container-load of used Tesla batteries. Combined with huge forklift motors, the electric-retrofit industry took off.

Many other companies followed suit, including eDub which was founded in 2013, and started to mold the industry into what it has become today. The electric retrofit industry is still too expensive for most, with prices starting at £35,000 ($42,000) for a basic conversion, but supply choice is increasing and as that plateaus out, and competition increases, prices will start to come down.

But what’s next for the industry? Will classic conversions become so accessible they become ‘boring’, or will the appeal of a priceless classic be outstripped once smaller and cheaper EVs are the norm? Maybe legislation will fall on the wrong side of the fence and cause the industry to crash and burn, leading prices of the remaining converted vehicles to shoot through the roof.

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Having had the urge to try and convert a car myself, and given up, I thought of the founder and director of eDub Services, Kit Lacey, who has seen the industry evolve in the UK since 2013. I have covered a few of his conversions, including those of electric VW campers, and Kit certainly has his finger on the pulse of how things are changing in his green and pleasant land, but also in the continent and across the pond.

“The inevitability of this industry is legislation, and that’s not a bad thing” Kit tells me, and elaborates:

“Electric conversions are perfects storms of what can go wrong. The general operation of a vehicle can be covered by a good service and a MOT (Ministry of Transport) test, something which classic vehicles are not required to have in the UK which is a little strange. You then combine the classic vehicle with high voltage: 100 — 400V normally but anything up to 800V. Remember that any DC voltage over 58V is classified as dangerous. If legislation doesn’t come in to the industry, then it won’t be long before there’s a serious incident.

“Legislation will be enforced by a combination of the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) and the DoT (Department of Transport) in the UK. And they will do this in one of two broad ways: Either they will listen to the existing conversion companies for what currently exists with product choices and product availability, therefore softening the blow of legislation. Or they will panic, and lock everything down. The UK has a long history with the classic automotive industry so we can only hope for the former. We look forward to these changes as it will bring uniformity to the industry and safety to all of our customers.”

Photo by eDub services

I then asked Kit where he thinks the industry will end up, what will the classic electric conversion industry look like in 10, 20 even 50 years?

“Conversion companies have access to literally millions of classic cars, available all over the world. And just like the current shift with consumer vehicles; it’s a curve. Some people will adopt early, and then there will be an upsurge as more classic car owners take the plunge. We’ll also see many people who would have loved a classic car, suddenly see them as reliable and fun. They love classic VW Campers, but never would have considered a petrol version due to unreliability and fuel costs. Suddenly you have a whole new market of classic car owners; passionate about the look and feel of the vehicle, with no intention of touching a spanner.

“At eDub, all of our focus is on repeatable and upgradable kits. This means that the vehicle gets the best conversion at the time it is converted. But tech changes and improves. Unlike an iPhone, where the hardware remains the same, when it becomes out of date, or you want better, you have to throw the whole thing away. With an eDub Conversion; when we get faster rapid charging, or higher energy density batteries, or V2X charging, you simply upgrade that part and keep enjoying the vehicle.

“This may surprise people; but the current trajectory of the classic vehicle industry will change drastically. Without the electric conversion movement; classic car ownership and ‘drivability’ will dwindle as parts become harder to source and a passionate generation is replaced with one less interested in unreliable ‘charm’. With electric conversions, the vehicles can live on. They can retain their original registrations and keep driving the roads, bringing smiles to the faces of drivers and onlookers alike.

“Let’s not forget that by electrifying our classics in the right way, we will keep traditional classic car garages and service centres in business. Currently; the work available to these garages will dwindle alongside the petrol-powered industry. Classics on the road still need brake checks, underbody protection, the occasional paint job. These workshops will continue to thrive alongside the electric conversion niche.“

Photo by eDub services

I couldn’t help myself but asking Kit: What about self-driving, will that cause the conversion industry to slow down?

“No, I don’t think so; people will still want to drive cars. Self-driving is a convenience choice, which is not relevant to classics. Maybe 5 days a week we’ll all get around with automation, but on the weekend; you’ll still take your electric classic VW camper out for a spin. It’s all about integration too. A few years ago, the only option for battery location in a camper van was in the cab, taking up space. Now, eDub have designed a kit which keeps all batteries outside the cab, maximising storage space and improving installation simplicity and speed. eDub’s dashboard is also sympathetic, you look twice to realise that something is different and that’s exactly how it should be.

“If a self driving kit comes out in years to come, and the cameras and scanners can be installed sympathetically, then some people will go for it. As we always say, there’s no such thing as a ‘best’ conversion, just the best option for the customer and their car.”

Now, you might think that autonomy is about safety, and you would be right, but as it turns out, the accident rate of classic vehicles is very low, hence low insurance costs. People simply drive less aggressive in their beloved classics, and tend to be more careful not to damage anything.

Photo by eDub services

It’s still early days, but the horizon is closer than you think, and the electric conversion movement may just be the savior of the classic car industry.

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Jesper Berggreen

Jesper had his perspective on the world expanded vastly after having attended primary school in rural Africa in the early 1980s. And while educated a computer programmer and laboratory technician, working with computers and lab-robots at the institute of forensic medicine in Aarhus, Denmark, he never forgets what life is like having nothing. Thus it became obvious for him that technological advancement is necessary for the prosperity of all humankind, sharing this one vessel we call planet earth. However, technology has to be smart, clean, sustainable, widely accessible, and democratic in order to change the world for the better. Writing about clean energy, electric transportation, energy poverty, and related issues, he gets the message through to anyone who wants to know better. Jesper is founder of Lifelike.dk and a long-term investor in Tesla, Ørsted, and Vestas.

Jesper Berggreen has 243 posts and counting. See all posts by Jesper Berggreen