Image: An electric battery pack in a converted Prius. EV retrofitting converts vehicles to electric by augmenting their operating systems with lithium ion electric battery packs. Image From: Cal Cars
Audio Editing by: Wangyuxuan Xu Blurb by: Sophie Wenzlau and Marie Hogan Script by: Sophie Wenzlau
What is electric vehicle (EV) retrofitting and why does it matter?
‘EV retrofitting’ refers to the process of converting a gas-powered vehicle into an electric vehicle by replacing its gas engine with a battery pack. The battery pack is designed to fit within the vehicle’s chassis—the structural frame to which its wheels, suspension, engine, and other components are attached. Typically, the battery pack fits in the space previously occupied by the gas engine and fuel tank; the available space generally varies by vehicle make and model. The battery’s size and weight depend on the vehicle being retrofitted, as well as the desired range and performance.
Despite these constraints, mass-producing battery packs for retrofitting a specific type of vehicle chassis with an electric powertrain is possible. Using a standard-sized battery allows for high-volume retrofits of vehicles with a compatible chassis, which can lower costs and reduce the time required for the retrofit process.
Policies promoting the adoption of new EVs, such as California’s Advanced Clean Cars II, can help increase the number of new EVs on the road. However, they do not address the existing vehicle fleet of gas-powered vehicles that continue to emit greenhouse gases and air pollutants. On average, these vehicles stay on the road for about 12 years in the US, and may be used even longer in low and middle income countries. Gas powered vehicles’ slow replacement rate delays the increase in the percentage of EVs on the road. Retrofitting’s supporters say a comprehensive approach to electrifying transportation that includes strategies for retrofitting existing gas-powered vehicles can help address the lag, particularly in low- and middle-income countries where the upfront cost of new EVs present a larger barrier to adoption.
What does EV Shift do, and who is Al Elayeb?
EV Shift is an Egypt-based company that specializes in retrofitting commercial fleets with electric powertrains. It focuses on vehicles that travel relatively short and predictable routes and return to a home base at night for charging. To make electric transportation more accessible and feasible in middle-income and emerging economies, such as Egypt, the company has adopted a strategy of retrofitting the most popular vehicle models already on the road.
Al Elayeb, the co-founder and CEO of EV Shift, is a chemical engineer with previous experience at a battery startup in the United States. He founded the company in response to the lack of accessible EV options in middle-income and emerging economies, such as Egypt.
Ethan: I’m Ethan Elkind, and you’re listening to Climate Break. Climate solutions in a hurry. Today’s proposal: converting gas-powered vehicles into electric vehicles by replacing their engines with batteries and motors. Dr. Aly El Tayeb [Ah-lee el-TIE-ebb] is the co-founder and CEO of Shift EV. We spoke to him at the recent UN climate conference in Egypt where he is based, about this process and why it could be a winning strategy in developing countries.
Aly: We’re focused on specific vehicles where there are large volumes on the street. As an example, there are 50,000 suzuki minivans and 950,000 US OEM pickup truck in Cairo–same chassis. This lends itself to a completely different process where you’re thinking about retrofitting in terms of an assembly line. The retrofitting takes a couple of hours.
The business model itself is pretty straightforward. We work with fleet owners and operators. We don’t work with individuals. The pitch is: bring us your fleet, pay nothing upfront, save 20% on a monthly subscription–and that’s it.
Ethan: EV retrofits can be fast and affordable, which is key for developing countries like Egypt and South Africa that have large urban centers and sizeable middle classes. In those places, a new electric car may be prohibitively expensive for most. But retrofitting has the potential to make electric vehicle ownership possible for the masses.
Aly: In all these societies, we are either going to wait for a few decades before we electrify or we’re going to adopt something like this. So, we’re on our way to scale to the few thousands of vehicles in Egypt and expand into a few emerging countries around the region.
Ethan: To learn more about electric vehicle retrofitting in Egypt and around the world, visit climatebreak.org.