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Retrofitting old ICE vehicles into an EVs- Expert view

The debate on retrofitting ICE vehicles into EVs continues. While many question the cost rationale, safety is another key aspect that takes centre-stage.

Retrofitting old ICE vehicles into an EVs- Expert view
Experts believe conversion of goods/ cargo commercial vehicles to an EV via retrofitment might be worthwhile as it can give a new life to those vehicles.

In the endeavour to boost EV adoption in the country, many state governments have given a go ahead to retrofitment services, wherein ICE vehicle users can convert their vehicles to EVs. Well the question that might come to your mind is what exactly is retrofitting? In simple terms, it is the conversion of an old diesel/petrol vehicle to an electric vehicle. This involves shedding off the internal combustion engine and other related systems and installation of the electric drivetrain. The assembly is done within the structural framework of the old vehicle. 

As simple as it sounds, almost a plug-and-play oppotunity, it is important to ensure the process is done factoring in all the safety parameters. It needs to be ensured that the process is undertaken by government approved retrofitting facilities and the standardised homologation process that certifies the road worthiness of the vehicles is taken into account. Generally this is on the basis of a set criterion before the retrofit kit is fitted in the vehicle. 

Shrikant Shinde, Founder GoGoA1 told Express Mobility that, “It is absolutely the need of the hour to convert diesel/petrol two wheelers into EVs. Indians treat their vehicles as part of the family and keep their vehicles for longer time. Recently, several state governments have implemented that vehicles older than 15 years have to be scrapped. What retrofitting does is, it prolongs the life of the vehicles and also ensures that as the engine is removed, the pollution is reduced with the use of the electric motor. The body of the bike along with key parts like suspension, brakes, headlights, etc remain the same but the engine is removed and replaced with an electric motor and batteries.”

“The EV conversion kit set has to be ARAI and RTO approved, and goes through stringent tests to nullify the scope of faults. Retrofitting companies have to use  batteries from reputed Indian companies, which are durable and last a long time. Both the kits and the batteries are manufactured to suit Indian climatic and driving conditions. Also, if the new EVs are tested twice before being introduced to the market then the conversion kits are tested four times plus the approval from RTO is making it a safer mode for electrification of vehicles,” Shinde added.

While the debate on retrofitting continues, it is important to spread awareness and information about the same to help users make an informed choice.

K K Gandhi, Centre for Auto Policy & Research (CAPR) believes that , “retrofitment of old diesel / petrol vehicles to an EV is not a good option as this would mean complete change of the powertrain by removing the old diesel / petrol engine and replacing it with EV drive train and battery system. We would be only using the chassis / body of the vehicle.” Gandhi explains that as the cost of the battery is more than 50-60 percent of the total vehicle cost in case of EVs, it may not be worthwhile. “Further we would be compromising on the safety standards which are mandated for the new vehicles such as airbags. This option in my opinion is neither advisable nor economically beneficial, added Gandhi . 

Another industry expert, Hemanth Aluru, Co-Founder, Turno also had a similar perspective in terms of a cost-benefit ratio, “We do not believe that retrofits are going to be a meaningful solution for mass EV adoption. They only have a possible role to play in very niche applications (where battery cost is <25 percent of vehicle cost).” He specified that the EV adoption issue (especially in commercial vehicles) has nothing to do with the value of vehicle chassis, “It is solely dependent on battery pricing and asset valuations of used batteries and to a very small extent on widespread availability of charging infrastructure. Retrofitting has no role to play in addressing any of these issues,” he added.

Rajiv K Vij, Founder of Plug Mobility pointed out that this could be an option for goods and cargo carriers, “Conversion of an old diesel/ petrol car to an EV is possible but quite expensive and may not be an ideal solution for a car owner/buyer. The EV battery pack, motor, controller are expensive components and so even in a small car, you may end up investing about Rs 4 lakh to convert a petrol/diesel car to EV. Also, no one will provide any loan for this investment for conversion. However, conversion of goods/ cargo commercial vehicles to an EV might be more workable as it can give a new life to those vehicles.”

While electric mobility seems to be the focal point in the country’s evolution towards cleaner and greener means of transport, retrofitment seems to be a potential option over the near-term but the jury is still out whether it would be worthwhile. 

Not so long ago, in June 2022, the Delhi government passed the order which allowed petrol and diesel vehicle owners to convert their vehicles into electric vehicles through retrofitment. The initiative to launch a portal that will provide faceless service for EV retrofitment for the vehicles is the latest step towards this end.

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