Car Conversion

Vintage Voltage TV Show

I’ve been aware of the team at Electric Classic Cars in Wales, as well as others around the world, who specialize in converting older vehicles, typically those considered to be classics, into EVs. While watching season one of Vintage Voltage, the TV show that follows some of ECC’s classic car conversions, I was wondering whether there would be a market for that kind of thing here in Alameda, and what it would take to set up such a business. This post is my thoughts on that idea.

Classic Cars

There are plenty of people who think it is sacrilege to convert a classic car to electric propulsion. I do not buy into that. Most classic cars are, by definition, older cars. Older cars suffer from many problems, not least of which is unreliability. As candidates for conversion to EVs they may be perfect. In additional to the improved reliability that comes with an electric powertrain, classic car owners typically have more disposable income to pay for the conversion, and they don’t tend to do long road trips in their classics, so less range is not as much of an issue.

All sounds good from a business plan perspective, but it is very much a services business. The team at Electric Classic Cars talks of trying to get several of the same model car in to convert at the same time, and of making drawings and notes so subsequent conversions of the same model will be faster. It still seems to be a lot of custom, one-off work.

Products

The product person inside of me cringes at one-off, services work. That’s no way to scale a business. It is also probably not the best way to have a big impact on the environment. EV West here in California has gone one step further: they make and sell kits for some cars, mainly old Volkswagen and Porsche models. These are everything you need, except batteries (they sell those too, so you can get what you need). The kit for the Karman Ghia that ECC did in their first episode is just US$7600 (no batteries).

This is better, but the market for Karman Ghia and vintage Porsche conversions still isn’t going to make much impact on our carbon dioxide problem.

Mass Market

Toyota Prius Mk2 (Image: Wikipedia)

My final thought on this was to take the kit concept, but apply it to vehicles that are more plentiful. The first car that came to mind was the Toyota Prius, more specifically older Mk 2 or Mk 3 models.

Logic would have said this could take advantage of the existing electric motor setup, but from a quick bit of research online it seems that this may be too complex to be worthwhile. It may also be a little underpowered to give acceptable performance. The Toyota Synergy Drive system uses not one, but two electric motors. The bigger one, which has an estimated 60hp, is used to drive the wheels. The smaller one is used as a generator and to start the ICE, essentially replacing the alternator. Damien Maguire in Ireland worked out that by welding the planet gears inside the transaxle, and, obviously, removing the iCE, it would be possible to use both electric motors in parallel:

Prius Transaxle Modification – Damien Maguire

Even with both motors working together, the power will less than the original Prius ICE+motor combination, so the driving experience is probably not going to be great, but it might be acceptable for a city car (and it would certainly be lower cost than the alternative). That alternative is to remove the ICE+motor combination, including the transaxle, and replace it with a more powerful single electric motor and differential. That’s more complex than the typical conversions performed by Electric Classic Cars, for example, since they tend to mate the motor to the existing gear box (at least when it can handle the torque).

The trick to this strategy is to be able to package the kit, complete with instructions, and make it simple enough that existing independent car repair locations can drop out the old parts, and install the new easily and repeatably.

Complications

One of the complications with converting newer vehicles is that they have more complex electronics. The Prius in particular was a advanced in terms of its tech, coming with a fully digital dashboard, integrate audio/navigation and more. This may make the conversion impractical as it likely means replacing all the in car electronics and designing new control systems to operate lights and other systems.

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