Retro electric cars: the latest trend
Lift the bonnet of your old Beetle, remove the engine and change it for a 100% electric motor. A number of handymen and SMEs are paving the way for an American trend that is becoming increasingly popular in Spain: bringing old models right up to date.
In the 1980s, Álex D. Sánchez had two obsessions that were difficult to reconcile: cars and ecology. He was passionate about everything that moved on four wheels but at the same time was concerned about environmental protection. “When I was 10 years old, leaded petrol was prohibited and all the new models were obliged to include catalytic converters. I remember feeling greatly relieved, because I thought that it would solve the big problem posed by cars: pollution,” says the 45-year-old computer engineer, who embarked on a project three years ago to definitively reconcile the automotive sector and ecology: by transforming recycled petrol or diesel vehicles into electric vehicles.
“When I was 10 years old, leaded petrol was prohibited and all the new models were obliged to include catalytic converters. I remember feeling greatly relieved because I thought that it would solve the big problem posed by cars: pollution” -Álex D. Sánchez
“When I was 10 years old, leaded petrol was prohibited and all the new models were obliged to include catalytic converters. I remember feeling greatly relieved because I thought that it would solve the big problem posed by cars: pollution”
-Álex D. Sánchez
The company, which is still at an early stage, is called Elektrun. “For now we have transformed a Seat 127 and a Renault Twingo.” Regulatory approval is very strict in Spain. “Each component has to be examined by a laboratory for the Ministry of Industry to approve it. This entails costs and time.”
The initial idea was to transform this car, which many people have parked at the back of their garage and do not want to sell for sentimental reasons, but the high cost of regulatory approval and lithium batteries gave them the key: to transform 12 cars of the same model at a time. The magic of economy of scale, on a small scale. They have initiated a round of crowdfunding for 12 electric Smarts capable of reaching 120 km/h and covering a distance of 130 kilometres without refuelling, at between €14,000 and €16,000. They want to do it with the Mini and the Beetle, “two classics ideally suited to transformation.”
Elektrun’s idea has a clearly environmental focus for two reasons: an electric car does not emit harmful gases when it circulates and the company works with used cars, so they also save on the energy and pollution involved in the manufacture of a new model. It is the same starting point as another project, in this case originating in Extremadura: Ecoche. Its promoters are José Milara, architect, and Mario Fernández, aeronautical engineer. Three years ago these two thirty-year-olds were delivering sustainable architecture training courses in Mexico when they made a startling discovery: cars in the United States that did not comply with emission regulations were exported to Mexico for use in this country. “Unacceptable pollution was accepted in Mexico,” says Fernández. That is how they came up with Ecoche as a solution for harmful vehicles that continue to circulate around the world or, in other words: change their energy source, based on fossil fuels, for electricity and lengthen their useful life.
“The use of diesel cars will be increasingly limited. What will happen when they can no longer circulate? The best solution is to transform them into electric cars and give them a new use.” -Mario Fernández
“The use of diesel cars will be increasingly limited. What will happen when they can no longer circulate? The best solution is to transform them into electric cars and give them a new use.”
For now, their immediate project is to transform a pick-up, although they can’t tell us the model. Their main obstacle, as in Elektrun’s case, is the stringent regulatory approval requirements. That is why they aimed high: “We met with the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani,” says Fernández. They expounded the need to increase the flexibility of approval processes for the transformation into electric cars, “but above all, to expedite them, the key for bringing circular economy to the sector. In Spain there are still many old and highly polluting cars circulating.” The engineer proposes: “The use of diesel cars will be increasingly limited. What will happen when they can no longer circulate? The best solution is to transform them into electric cars and give them a new use.”
Approval is much more permissive in the United States, the country on which the founders of Ecoche and Elektrun set their sights. There are many companies that are successfully transforming combustion cars into electric cars at moderate prices and they are becoming increasingly popular. One example is Californian company EV West which, among many other models, replaces the engine of a Beetle with one of 88 HP (double the power of the classic model) and with a range of 145 kilometres for a price of around €13,000 at the current exchange rate. They also provide kits for customers to fit it in their garage, and offer training, as explained by the owner of an Austin Mini in an Internet forum: “Their tutorials and their willingness to help convinced me go ahead with this crazy idea.” And they have achieved some amazing feats, such as converting a legendary sports car, the BMW M3, into an electric car, maintaining its 420 HP and competing in the famous Pikes Peak race with it.
At Elektrun and Ecoche they want to encourage this trend, which is why they offer training courses at the University of Elche and Extremadura, respectively. “The key is not building a big factory, but rather that transformation can be carried out in many small workshops, at local level,” says Fernández.
The movement is unstoppable and Elektrun and Ecoche are two examples close to home. The question is no longer how or how much, but rather when?