Does the retrofit sector have a future?

Published on April 3 in the Official Journal, the decree of March 13, 2020 authorizes the conversion of petrol or diesel vehicles to electric or hydrogen. A new sector, the activities of which are very well supervised.

With the decree retrofit, converting its old Clio will soon be possible. At least in theory since the government text imposes fairly strict rules on this new sector.

Buses, trucks, cars, utilities, scooters and motorcycles… if it is now possible to convert any vehicle, there are deadlines to be met. For a four-wheeled vehicle, the date of first entry into service must be more than five years. For a two-wheeler, the deadline is shortened to three years.

To be carried out by a professional

If the decree authorizes the conversion of internal combustion vehicles to electric, there is no question of letting an ordinary individual carry out the transformation of his car or his scooter.

On this point, the text is very clear and precise that the operation must be carried out by a professional. It’s mainly for security reasons. An improperly controlled battery can be dangerous. On hydrogen with tanks under 350 or 700 bars let’s not talk about it …

Approved kits

Besides going through a professional, this decree also introduces an obligation to certify the kits that will be installed. In France, UTAC CERAM has been designated by ministerial decree as the body responsible for assessing the conformity of the proposed transformation kits.

Even professionals will have to respect very precise specifications. For example, the maximum power of the kit cannot be greater than that of the retrofitted thermal vehicle. Ditto as for the weight and the distribution of the masses. More generally, it will not be possible to offer a kit that will go beyond the physical limits of the original model.

We will have the task of developing the conversion solution for a vehicle model. Once the components have been identified, we go to UTAC and we certify our vehicle Explains Jérémy Cantin, President of e-Néo, a company specializing in retrofit. ” As a manufacturer, we have the capacity to reproduce the same system for vehicles of the same type. If we start on a model of Volkswagen Golf type, we will have approved all the Volkswagen Golf that we equip. If we change the model, we will have to make a new homologation and a new kit which will be assigned to this vehicle

The development of each kit entailing costs, both on the homologation and R&D part, the challenge for companies specializing in retrofit is to find the right balance between price and performance while managing to meet the needs of users. We must also focus on high-volume vehicles (Renault Clio, Toyota Yaris, Fiat 500, Dacia Duster, etc.) to have a sufficiently large potential fleet to amortize the costs associated with these approvals.

According to our sources, the UTAC has not yet fully defined the approval procedures resulting from the decree. There will therefore likely be several months of waiting before the kits start to be certified before being placed on the market. With the drop in activity linked to the COVID-19 crisis, the first customer installations will probably not be effective before the end of 2020 or the beginning of 2021.

The price issue

Making kits is good but you still have to manage to offer them at affordable prices for ordinary people. Again, there is a lot of uncertainty and few announcements from the companies involved.

A few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to try out a prototype of an electric Fiat 500. Equipped with a 50 kW electric motor and a 15 kWh battery, it was converted by Transition One who announced a price of € 5,000 “bonus deducted” for the conversion. An astonishing information since there is to date no national aid for the retrofit. The few aids that exist are local. In Grenoble, it is possible to benefit from aid of up to 7200 euros to transform your vehicle. However, it only applies to the conversion of utilities.

The retrofit kit offered by Transition One on the Fiat 500 combines a 50 kW motor with a 15 kWh battery

Bonus or not? The question remains unanswered today and we hear different sounds from one interlocutor to another. When we question the retrofit players, we are told that the discussions are ongoing or even on the right track. There is even a bonus of around € 3,000. At Automobile-Propre, we were able to speak recently with Deputy Damien Adam, President of the study group Land vehicles within the Transport Commission of the National Assembly. He told us that ” The question of government aid for retrofitting was not on the agenda today

We will have to wait to see more clearly. Government-wide, a car recovery plan should be announced in the coming days but with aid likely to focus on sales of new vehicles. The other deadline is the finance law for 2021 which will start to be discussed in the autumn. The opportunity for some MPs favorable to the sector to put on the table the question of a bonus for retrofitted vehicles.

This question of the retrofit bonus also relates to a power relationship between two sectors. On the one hand, there are car manufacturers who no doubt view the emergence of a sector likely to compete with sales of new vehicles. On the other hand, there are the small garage owners who are going to push for the government to support this new sector.

An uncertain future

If some present the retrofit as a new El Dorado, we are much more reserved about the future of this sector. However, the outlook is different depending on the type of vehicle.

On the car, it will undoubtedly be very complicated for retrofit players to manage to develop their business without government assistance in the face of manufacturers now able to offer new electric cars for less than 20,000 euros deducted bonus. On the scooter, where the prices of new become more and more attractive, the observation is more or less identical.

On utility and heavy vehicles, there is probably more room for maneuver. In these segments, retrofit is likely to meet needs not covered by large manufacturers, particularly in terms of special vehicles. A market in which e-Néo is positioned in particular. For older vehicles, there may also be prospects provided that the market addressed is large enough to cover the costs of homologating the kits.

And you ? What do you think of the retrofit? What would be the ideal car for you to transform? Would you be ready to convert your car? With what characteristics and at what price? Feel free to share your opinion in the comments.

Electric Mini Austin converted by Ian Motion


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