• Aug 11th 2009 at 5:24PM
  • 23
Converted Saturn SC1 EV - click above for high-res image gallery

Is the mass retrofitting of older vehicles the solution to a rapid transformation to an electrified vehicle fleet? Felix Kramer, founder of Cal Cars, certainly thinks so. The problem lies in the fact that there are nearly 250 million vehicles on the road in the U.S. with a median age of about 10 years. When auto sales were at their peak of 16-17 million units a year in the recent past, it would have taken 20 years to replace most of the fleet. With sales not expected to return to those levels for the foreseeable future and current sales at about 10 million, it will take even longer.

Kramer is proposing that widespread retrofitted should be promoting as a means speeding up the transformation. Even with the slow rate that the vehicle fleet is turned over, the plug in conversion will be even slower because of the low volumes of those vehicles in the first years of availability. Tens of millions of vehicles could be converted much more quickly than new vehicles will be sold. Unfortunately, there are a lot of potential safety and reliability issues with such conversions. They can also be expensive. On the plus side, re-using existing vehicles takes much of the manufacturing energy out of the equation. It's certainly not a simple calculation.

[Source: Gas2.org]
Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.

    • 1 Second Ago
      • 8 Months Ago
      If I could get a decent car for 100 dollars and then convert it for 5000 then I would consider it. But a conversion (I know a guy who converted from petrol to LPG and had terrible problems) never works out as good as a factory built model.
      • 8 Months Ago
      No, for a variety of reasons.
      For one, the cost of a properly done conversion is significant, and considering that older cars often lack in safety and comfort, makes no economic sense except for hobbyists.
      Secondly, a conversion EV will almost certainly always be inferior to a purpose-built one, in efficiency and safety. It's just not possible to utilize all of the unique constructive opportunities that EV drivetrains offer in a chassis optimized for an ICE drivetrain, unless you essentially reconstruct the whole bodyshell.

      As a hobby, it should be promoted. The small industry that has built up to cater to those hobbyists will continue expanding, no doubt, but it's just not a suitable solution for the large scale. It might, however, help mobilize more start-ups to build dedicated EVs.
      • 8 Months Ago
      I've long felt this is the way to go, with a standard or several battery li-ion battery packs, a motor and control module, converting would be a snap, retrofitting garages would be everywhere, our Government would give you a rebate for the engine to help cover the cost, just like the CARS program, I'd love to convert my beetles to electric, to the dummies talking about trunk space this Saturn conversion is using century old lead acid battery's so with a modern battery pack space would not be such an issue, err thats kind of what most of the posts are about, do you people just flick off the Fox and stumble over to the pc and see how stupid you can make yourself look?
      • 8 Months Ago
      I'm currently restoring and converting an old 69' Datsun Roadster 1600 into electric. It's certainly more of a hobbiest thing, not the most practical solution in the world.

      I doubt converting old cars has any real chance at becoming widespread. Most people just aren't up to the task and want a more practical, affordable solution. However, there are some upsides, like giving the ability to breathe new life into a car with a seized engine.
      • 8 Months Ago
      This isn't a completely nutso idea, but...

      I'd say the best approach might be to analyze the current North American used-car fleet, and find some of the most widespread models still on the road. Out of the top five, say, figure out which two would make the best candidates.

      Then, conduct some proper production engineering and figure out the best packaging, both for overall performance and for ease of conversion.

      THAT might work...
      • 8 Months Ago
      What I'd really like to see is something like the about-to-be-deceased Ford Ranger switched over to an EV model. All the dies and tooling are probably long since paid for and depreciated to 0. There used to be a Ford Ranger EV and hobbyists have made conversions, so there's a body of knowledge already available. It's not a great vehicle but it does have most of the modern safety features that a 20+ year old retofit wouldn't have. It certainly has the space for batteries, and body-on-frame trucks are ideal for the extra weight having already been designed for heavier duty hauling. This is the type of "retrofit" that has some hope of success at producing vehicles in any quantity. You'd have a ready supply of new rolling chassis, all of the same model, and not used vehicles of various makes, models, and conditions. You'd also have a vehicle that is more suited to EV conversion than most anything else (front engine, RWD, body on frame, semi heavy-duty, and super simple).

      Something like this, especially with some government backing, would be the most likely scenario that I've seen to get an affordable EV to market, albeit a basic and dowdy one. Unfortunately, it's not going to be a halo car like a Volt or Tesla, and introducing a "new" vehicle that's an externally invisible update to the old model goes against everything the auto industry is about (constantly updating models and convincing customers to dump their "inferior" older models).

      What we need is some T. Boone Pickens type to buy out the Ranger production, plant, rights, etc from Ford at its end of life and produce it.
      • 8 Months Ago
      If EESTOR ever becomes a reality, this might make economical sense. But lead acid batteries suck and lithium is too expensive.
      • 6 Years Ago
      A very select few would be willing to drive a conversion like this Saturn.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Because, who needs trunk space?
      • 6 Years Ago
      This has all the marks of an uneconomical, unproductive make-work waste of time.

      First off, no one would want to invest $15k to convert a perfectly good new car into an EV; Especially seeing that for most sedans $15k will purchase a lifetime supply of gasoline at current prices. (And yes, I know that's current prices, but if you had $15k cash you could just as much lock in the current price via investing in oil companies).

      The ones that would be converted would be old cars that are not worth that much more, then the question is who wants to drop $15k into an old car maybe work $5k?

      Then there is the question of the car not being DESIGNED for an EV. That means custom built systems (A/C, Power Steering, Break pump, vacuum pump) to change over to electric drive. That also means having to fit all the new parts into a car not optimized for EV drive components. Basically you would have to design all new systems for each and every make/model of car you intend to convert.

      More to the point, all you're doing is retaining the metal body and discarding basically all the mechanical systems in the conversion (which represent almost all the embodies energy). Why not go a little further and start with a clean sheet design and a purpose built body/frame?

      Besides, recycling steel is generally done in carbon arc furnaces that use electric. If we have clean electric, why bother caring about embodied energy?

        • 8 Months Ago

        Exactly my point:

        People buy old cars with bad engines and convert them to EV as a hobby. I presume a fun hobby at that, and most importantly most hobbies are not about getting an economic return on your investment they are about learning and having fun.

        But, how many people can justify economically investing $15,000 to do the conversion if were not a hobby? As a pure investment, it will never pay back and it makes poor sense to invest a lot of money into a car that's practically worthless.

        • 8 Months Ago
        Er. Mike. Some of us would. I've converted a "brand new" replica of a 1957 Porsche 356 Speedster to electric drive and I'm just thrilled with it. It was expensive. The car cost $23k and the parts cost about $28k. But it will now do 100 miles on a charge, it costs about a $1.50 to charge it. The batteries should last me 10 years.

        It goes 95 miles per hour. I can do 0-60 in about 7.5 seconds now. The battery weight, combined with some brake upgrades and some coil over shocks, do indeed make this car drive differently. It is much smoother, and has a much lower center of gravity. Is a result it handles VERY differently from a real Porsche 356 - MUCH BETTER!

        The components will last for years. No oil. No gas. No dirt. And it is an absolute pleasure to drive.

        Who would do this to a new car? I would. We have already started conversion of a brand spanking new 2009 Mini Cooper Clubman to electric drive. We think we'll hit 125 miles on a charge with this one.

        In truth, conversions are going to be the biggest part of true plug-in electric cars for many years. The Volt isn't one. It has a gasoline engine and generator in it. And for the foreseeable future, it has to.

        Why? Well it's pretty simple. We all know about batteries included. So when the American public goes to the showroom, their first question will be "How much do the batteries cost to replace."

        The only answer that will result in a sale is "We cover the cost of the batteries. We warranty the batteries for 150,000 miles or 7 years." If you don't have that answer, you won't sell a car. Period.

        The problem with Lithium Ion batteries is that if you overdischarge them, you kill them. Permanently. There are 10,000 people a day who run out of gas NOW with gasoline vehicles that feature a 400 mile "range." I have. Everybody has.

        With a gasoline car, if you run out of gas, no harm, no foul. You put more in. And you drive away.

        In an electric car, if you run out of gas, you have just destroyed a $20,000 battery pack. Not good. The "range extender" panders to your "range anxiety" but it has little to do with range. It allows the car manufacturer to automatically start the motor and charge the batteries when they get to a certain low charge level. This PREVENTS you from running out of "gas" in the batteries, and allows you to get home. If you actually run out of gasoline, the car doesn't move, and doesn't bleed the batteries any further. But if you add gas, you can then drive home.

        This is the REALITY behind hybrids. And it is not an evil plot. If you were manufacturing cars, you would face EXACTLY the same problem. You can't sell a car without dealing with the battery issue. And you can't deal with the battery issue without controlling the charge cycle.

        The batteries are here NOW and they make a GREAT car. It is an entirely different driving experience and you are NOT a victim of oil companies.

        A hybrid actually inherits the complexities of BOTH systems and is a poor solution for me. It is quite true that you can put a saddle on a cow and it is just as equally true that you can milk a mare. But it's a funny way to travel to breakfast and you'll likely annoy both the cow and the mare.

        If you want a TRUE plug-in EV, for the foreseeable future you are just going to have to build one yourself.

        We're publishing videos of the process as we do the 2009 Mini Cooper. http://evtv.me/mini.html I'm sure most motorists will NOT want to do their own, but many will. And as people become aware of what these cars can do, I think it will turn into a real grass roots movement.

        Ultimately, there is little point in converting ALL of our cars to electric. If we replaced half the miles driven, the local dry cleaner /grocery miles, gasoline would be $0.75 per gallon for your trip to the lake or cross country in your Escalade. And yes, the air would be heroically cleaner.

        Jack Rickard
        • 8 Months Ago
        "First off, no one would want to invest $15k to convert a perfectly good new car into an EV"

        A perfectly good new car? No, probably not. Most ev conversions are started from older cars with engine problems. Checking out craigslist easily provides more than a few cars that are going for almost nothing because the engine is siezed. If you look at evalbum.com hardly any of the converted vehicles are "new" cars.
      • 8 Months Ago
      • 8 Months Ago
      Conversions have poor range. People passed on the opportunity to even lease EV1s with 100 mile range, I don't think 60 mile range conversions (as is typical) will make a dent in the marketplace.
        • 8 Months Ago
        I know your being deliberately irritating, but as you know people lined up for blocks to keep their EV1's, protested and begged to pay cash money to keep them, and also most Americans don't drive more that 40miles a day, soooooooo 60 mile range is plenty for most second vehicles, or with a little thought it could be your main vehicle, then you could go rent a Tesla for longer trips
    • Load More Comments
    Share This Photo X