Home » E-cars: combustion engine conversion is still a niche phenomenon – News

E-cars: combustion engine conversion is still a niche phenomenon – News

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E-cars: combustion engine conversion is still a niche phenomenon – News

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Converting combustion engines makes ecological sense, but is expensive. Questions and answers on the subject of retrofitting.

Who builds an electric car from a conventional car these days? At the moment in Switzerland it is lovers and collectors of classic cars who are affording a so-called retrofit. There are specialized companies like the Marton factory, which carry out conversions in hundreds of hours of work: replacing the drive train, removing the gearbox, installing a new motor and new batteries. The entire renovation takes around a year and can easily cost 200,000 francs.

Retrofitting at the Marton factory

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Legend: From the outside, a classic like it was 60 years ago: The Jaguar XK 150 cannot be recognized as an electric car at first glance… Manufactory Marton

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Legend: … only a look under the hood reveals the conversion: Where a six-cylinder engine once hummed, a modern electric motor now hums. Marton Manufactory

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Legend: The comparison shows: The new electric drive is a lot smaller than the old combustion engine. Marton Manufactory

Why is it so expensive? Currently, every converted car is a unique piece; the effort is almost comparable to developing a new car. In addition, there is an extremely complicated approval process: In order for the car to be allowed to drive on Swiss roads, it needs various tests – that alone can easily cost as much as a small car. And this despite the fact that all components used have already been pre-tested and developed for cars.

Couldn’t that be easier and cheaper? Yes, actually. Students at the Bern University of Applied Sciences converted an Audi A2 – and equipped it with used components: the electric motor comes from an accident-prone Nissan Leaf, the used battery from a Mitsubishi Outlander. However, it was not possible to obtain approval. In order to prove the safety of the battery, it would have had to be destroyed.

Why does a conversion make sense from an ecological perspective? The magic word here is circular economy. Experts see the conversion as an energy-saving way to decarbonize transport. Because the vehicle body can be reused, the conversion causes less embodied energy than if a new electric car had to be manufactured. If even a used motor and a second-hand battery were installed, the energy balance would be even more positive.

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Test experiment by the Bern University of Applied Sciences

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Legend: The students installed the battery in the trunk and at the expense of a passenger seat in the second row. SRF

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Legend: The engine of an accident-prone Nissan Leaf has been given a second life thanks to the Bern University of Applied Sciences project. SRF

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Legend: On the road on the test track – the converted A2 works, but is not allowed on the road because it is not registered. SRF

What’s going on at the political level? National Councilor Bruno Storni (SP, Ticino) submitted a motion on this topic in March 2022. She calls for the regulations to be relaxed to make it easier to convert from a combustion engine to an electric car. Specifically, components that have already been certified will be easier to obtain approval and the batteries will no longer have to be subjected to destructive tests. The federal government rejected the motion, but the National Council approved it last fall. And the Council of States also approved the proposal on Wednesday.

Legend: The French car manufacturer Renault is pushing ahead with the retrofitting of its own classics (pictured: a Renault 5 GTL retrofit at a special show in Paris in February 2023). IMAGO / Sebastian Geisler

Where does Switzerland stand in comparison to other countries? The French government is supporting the conversion with several thousand euros per vehicle and wants to make the retrofit more attractive. In Germany, the start-up e-Revolt wants to go onto the market next year and, according to its own information, wants to buy a VW Golf or an Audi A3 in just one day for around 12,000 to 15,000 euros (11,500 to 14 500 francs) to convert it into an electric car. The company tells SRF that demand is great – but it is not yet clear whether this conversion of a combustion engine into an electric car will actually be practical.

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