Why converting your car to electric could be the future

Why converting your car to electric could be the future

The workshop at Damien Maguire’s north Cork home is part mechanic’s garage, part mad scientist laboratory.

Electric instruments flicker in one corner. Next to the workbench is a driveline salvaged from a crashed electric car. As with new electric vehicles, new parts are expensive and Mr Maguire is constantly on the lookout for used and salvaged parts.

The yard outside the converted barn houses a small fleet of vintage BMWs, which Mr Maguire has converted into fully electric vehicles.

The process, he told Prime Time, is pretty simple.

The radiator, exhaust, fuel outlet and fuel lines come out. “We’re replacing them with components that make it an electric vehicle — a motor, a way to control the motor, a battery and a way to charge the battery,” he said.

It’s easy when you know how.

Converting cars to electric vehicles has been a hobby since 2009. Although sometimes expensive, Mr Maguire recently completed a full refurbishment for under €1,000.

These cars are for his personal use, but he uses them to test the components developed in his workshop, which he then sells all over the world to people doing their own conversions.

Damien Maguire’s 1996 BMW E31 has been converted to electric

Vehicle performance varies depending on which parts are used. But his 1996 BMW E31 “will pin you in the seat when you put your foot down,” thanks to its Tesla drivetrain, he said.

Although it wasn’t always easy, Maguire has managed to get his vehicles insured, taxed as battery electric vehicles and NCT certified.

At the moment it is a niche job. But Mr Maguire would like to see this kind of retrofitting on a much wider, commercial basis, with more companies involved.

An electrical retrofit can give a second life to many vehicles that are otherwise headed for the scrap heap.

Still, there aren’t many options currently for people who lack the expertise and skill that have enabled Mr Maguire to carry out his own transformations.

Studio AVA, in the heart of the Powerscourt Estate in Co Wicklow, does bespoke conversions, but not for the crackpots sitting in your driveway – and only for those with very deep pockets.

“A lot of what we focus on is ultra-high-net-worth individuals, business people from all over the world — even actors and actresses,” Norman Crowley, CEO of Studio AVA, told Prime Time.

“We’ve done cars for Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire. We did Ellie Goulding’s wedding car. And there are other actors and actresses we can’t talk about.”

A gold-colored, all-electric Land Rover Defender, with a sumptuous leather interior and a powerful 500 horsepower drivetrain, drives beautifully. It is worth more than €250,000. A 1964 Corvette StingRay, currently being retrofitted by the company, is expected to sell for around €500,000.

A 1964 Corvette StingRay retrofitted by Studio AVA is expected to sell for around €500,000 (Image: Studio Ava/Instagram)

Buying cars for more than the cost of a decent sized house is not an option for the average driver. But the classic and luxury conversions are only a small part of what Studio AVA does.

The company is primarily focused on converting vehicle fleets used in industries such as mining. Part of the Cool Planet group is the primary focus on the existential threat of climate change, Crowley told Prime Time.

“We’re very focused here on one thing – which is to stop the big carbon emitters around the world from emitting so much carbon and also show them that it’s not only an ecological opportunity, but it’s an economic opportunity for them as well to reduce costs.”

Further afield, other countries have started to make commercial renovations a real and affordable option.

In Orléans France, a company currently manufactures kits to convert small cars. They have a small battery range of around 100 km – but also a small cost.

Aymeric Libeau, CEO of Transition-One, told Prime Time that customers will be able to order the kits, have them delivered to their local authorized workshop and be able to drive off in an all-electric vehicle just four hours after dropping off. their old internal combustion engine jalopy.

Studio AVA is primarily focused on converting vehicle fleets used in industries such as mining

The company currently supports seven vehicle models – all small, mostly French – although it aims to expand this to between 60 and 80 over the next five years.

Affordability is key, which will be helped by subsidies from the French government. Once these are factored in, Libeau says the cost should be around €5,000 per conversion.

The company plans to carry out the renovations on a large scale.

“One of our targets for the conversion sector is to convert three million vehicles before 2032. This is possible. It depends on ambition. And with the climate emergency, we need a lot of ambition,” Libeau said.

Tom Spencer, editor of the website Irish EVs, said the French example should be something that is closely watched from here, especially the government subsidies.

We also have some ambitious targets for electric vehicles here in Ireland. The aim is to have one million on Irish roads by 2030, up from just over 40,000 at the moment.

The cost of new EVs is still high, with used models not much lower.

Transition-One in France currently manufactures kits to convert small cars

They are good options for people who can afford the initial layout, but there are no realistic options for those on tighter budgets. How big a role can retrofitting play in bridging that gap?

Mr Spencer believes it could be “huge”, with the right government support.

Mr Maguire said there is no chance Ireland will reach the one million target without a proper rearmament system, but he is pessimistic about the prospects for government support.

Mr Crowley struck a different note, saying he does not believe a broad retrofit program is the answer.

“There are very strict safety laws in Europe now. They have to be crash tested, they have to be built properly,” he said.

Instead, he believes that the cost of new electric vehicles will continue to fall.

While not a panacea for carbon emissions, a scheme to retrofit Ireland’s fleet of diesel and petrol vehicles seems to make a lot of sense. But on a grand scale, we may still be some way off from Ireland’s cars of the past being given a second life as the cars of the future.

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