- Retrofitting presents a huge opportunity for India, since electric vehicle production will take some time to scale.
- A study by Ola Mobility Institute in 2019 said that central government e-mobility targets for 2030 can only be achieved when the incentive provision goes beyond the purchase cost of electric vehicles.
It was over two decades ago that India moved towards Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) adoption to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels such as petrol and diesel, as well as control air pollution. The directive issued by the Supreme Court in 1998 led to the mass conversion of conventional vehicles – buses, taxis and three-wheelers – into CNG-powered vehicles. Consequently, this paved the path for the CNG retrofitting market.
Cut to today, CNG is giving way to vehicles powered by electrical batteries, which is leading to growth of EV retrofitting market.
Retrofitting is the process of converting a combustion engine vehicle into an electric one, and presents a huge opportunity for India, since electric vehicle production will take some time to scale. Although conversations around EVs have multiplied in the last few months post the Covid-19 outbreak, it will take a few years for these vehicles to make a deep impact on the market.
Imported components, especially batteries, raise the price of electric vehicles, and act as a deterrent for consumers interested in moving to clean mobility.
“Loop Moto is working with the assumption that this is a good opportunity, at least in the Indian market. The primary reason why we think so is because to adopt electric vehicles in India, you have to make electric vehicles in India, given the substantial import duty. The launch for new vehicles in India, especially for low demand vehicles, such as freight vehicles, or even cars etc, is typically 4-5 years, and unless there is a huge demand, the viability for manufacturing vehicles in India will not be as great as it is for ICE vehicles. This puts India in this unique position, where it may make sense to take old ICE vehicles and retrofit them, or take chassis of new vehicles and then retrofit them with electric batteries. So that’s the kind of logic we hold with regard to retrofitting,” shared Tarun Khurana, Managing Partner, Loop Solar, shared with The Blue Circle.
The Potential of Retrofitting
A study by Ola Mobility Institute in 2019 said that central government e-mobility targets for 2030 can only be achieved when the incentive provision goes beyond the purchase cost of electric vehicles.
The Total Cost of Ownership includes the direct and indirect costs of purchasing, running and maintaining the electric vehicle. With these overheads, the cost of ownership is significantly higher for electric vehicles at this point in time, especially since the charging infrastructure is not robust.
That’s exactly why there are several startups riding the retrofitting wave.
Delhi-based startup BharatMobi launched the ‘Bharat Kit’, which is designed to convert conventional vehicles into electric. The customised battery, part of the kit, gives an average speed of 80 kilometres per hour after being charged for four to five hours.
In an interview to News18, Akbar Baig, Co-founder of BharatMobi shared, “With the Bharat Kit, your car becomes a pollution-free, gearless, noiseless vehicle. This kit goes perfectly with a wide range of cars and offers a smooth, efficient and fuel-free drive.”
Loop Moto is another startup that provides a compact electric powertrain with Lithium-ion batteries, battery management system (BMS) and other associated accessories as kits for different vehicles to retrofit any conventional vehicle and convert it into an electric vehicle
“There are many form factors where there are no EVs available, and because the volumes are not very huge as of now, there would be no attempt on part of OEMs to make or design those vehicles. Even if they decide to do that, it takes a good 3-5 years to bring them to the market, that’s why retrofitting plays an important role,” added Tarun.
“It has a multi-fold impact on the entire ecosystem, in comparison to creating a new EV. In India, you already have cities that are very dense, and decongestion also has to be a major goal. When you electrify, you also decongest, because you are converting an existing ICE vehicle into electric, instead of adding more vehicles. So, it not only decarbonises but also decongests the roads,” shared Deepak with TBC.
That’s not all – the on-road life of a vehicle can be increased beyond 15 years (which is likely to be the mandate for the Vehicle Scrappage Policy).
“Retrofitting is a beautiful and scientific way to extend the life of your asset, it is a rejuvenation process, and it also helps you accrue the benefits. If you look at the operating cost, an EV would end up saving Rs 3.5-4 per km for the user, so the more you run, the more you save. We are looking at creating an extension of 5-7 years easily on the vehicle,” mentioned Deepak.
Importance of Certification
Although the procedure may look relatively simple at first glance, it isn’t, shared Deepak. eTrio is the only company in the country rolling out new EV products and electrifying existing ICE products with a sharp focus on building an ecosystem for driving adoption of a range of green mobility vehicles including two, three and four wheelers.
“We have a 150-point checklist to see that we retrofit the right way. We complete a 5-step detailed process substituting the entire vehicle, with the exception of the chassis and the cabin. The vehicle really becomes new,” he added, sharing that eTrio is India’s first company to have received a regulatory certification for retrofitting by the Automobiles Research Association of India (ARAI) and ICAT
The company has retrofitted the Maruti Suzuki Dzire and Tata Ace, apart from Maruti Suzuki Alto to electric vehicles.
“We have converted existing Tata Ace vehicles into electric before Tata could do it. They have seen great success in the marketplace. These are running across the ecommerce logistic ecosystem, with leading players like Amazon, Flipkart, BigBasket, IKEA, and Delhivery utilising our vehicles,” added Deepak.
“This is because when you are retrofitting components in an old vehicle, be it batteries, motors, or electronics, these add up to more than 60% of the vehicle’s cost. Why would you invest 60-70% of the value in an old vehicle and not buy a new vehicle? At mass scale, we won’t see a million vehicles being retrofitted every year. But I think it has specific use cases, so for example, someone already has an EV, but thinks the range is lower and might want to put an extra battery on the same EV – you can call it range extension but it is some sort of retrofitting,” he added.
Deepak adds that retrofitting companies must receive regulatory support from the government. Currently, the FAME 2 policy has no provisions or incentives for retrofitting of vehicles.
“We know the kind of effort we’ve put in to clear the certification tests, so that it meets a particular standard to operate. We understand the apprehension of the government, but they must support certified players like us. We want an equal playing field, where organised retrofitting is encouraged,” he concluded.