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When you picture an electric vehicle (EV), you’re likely to imagine a sleek, futuristic car.
But electric vehicles are no longer only the domain of the future—and in fact, companies such as London Electric Cars and Electrogenic have made it their mission to make electric vehicles that are relics from the past. These companies work to convert classic cars so that they can run on electric power, blending the newness of EV technology with an old-school aesthetic.
Converting classic cars into electric vehicles
London Electric Cars was founded in 2017 and is located in a tiny garage in Vauxhall, England. The company’s mission is to replace gas-guzzling combustion engines in classic cars with smoother electric motors.
This project recycles EV parts, such as motors and batteries, that would otherwise be discarded, and uses them to give a classic car a second, and much more eco-friendly, life. These parts are salvaged from damaged EVs which have been rejected by insurance firms.
According to London Electric Car’s website, the company’s goal is to "get more people driving electric cars."
"There are 1 billion cars in the world. As we convert to an electrically propelled society, are we going to scrap all those cars?" the website asks. "Instead, let’s develop affordable ways of converting those cars to electric."
Electrogenic offers a similar service that refits old cars with electric motors. Steve Drummond, the company’s owner, told BBC, "We’re making cars to be used, not just preserved…Most classics barely get people home, but we’re increasing ranges and making them accessible."
There are several advantages to converting your classic car
One advantage of converting your classic car to an EV is that the once-deafening engine is now almost inaudible. The obnoxious engine noise that often deters drivers from buying an older model is replaced by a smooth hum.
Another advantage is that a converted car reduces carbon emissions and waste, making it perfect for classic car-lovers who are also environmentally conscious. The company’s founder, Matthew Quitter, called London Electric Cars "the ultimate recycling."
Moreover, making the conversion emits less carbon dioxide than buying a new electric vehicle, providing a further environmental incentive. In fact, 46% of the 18 tonnes of carbon dioxide produced over an EV’s lifetime is emitted during the manufacturing process.
Government incentives fail to account for classic-to-electric vehicle conversions
Currently, getting a classic car converted by London Electric Cars is pricey, costing around £20,000. The company aims to reduce this price to closer to £5,000, however, as they understand that it’s important to keep EV ownership affordable.
The U.K. government currently offers £2,500 grants to car-buyers purchasing new EVs. Quitter, however, believes that this is not enough, and that the government should provide these grants to car-owners who plan to convert their cars.
According to Quitter, these grants incentivize waste, motivating car-owners to buy new EVs rather than recycle their old car.
"It’s a disaster to waste the millions of old cars on our roads, and the governments’ EV rebates are encouraging scrappage," he said. "The government needs to offer affordable conversions on cheap old cars, to make use of the scrapped EV batteries - which have raw materials that are still sky-rocketing in price."
Drummond agrees. "The incentives are to buy new EVs, but that’s throwing away a whole car when you could just change the engine," he said.
Still, there are some financial upsides to converting your classic car. For example, owners of non-commercial converted classic cars are exempted from paying vehicle taxes.
Still, there’s plenty of work to be done to make these conversions accessible. "Retrofitting vehicles with batteries is an emerging market, and we’re working with green travel researchers," a spokesperson from the Department of Transport said to BBC.
The legacy of classic cars: cheapened or improved by electric vehicle technology?
While companies such as London Electric Cars and Electrogenic are passionate about their work, some classic car enthusiasts remain concerned about the effect of these conversions on the legacies of classic cars.
Wayne Scott, director of the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs, said to the BBC that though he "would never dictate what people chose to do with their cars," he would "advise people to think about the effect of changing our heritage by converting it."
Scott added, "The soundtrack of the engine is part of the experience of the car, and what makes it special. Refitting that is like taking the best Rolling Stones album and re-making it on a Casio keyboard and trying to tell people it’s the same experience."
Many others disagree, however, thinking that refitting classic models with electric parts gives car-owners the best of both worlds. Drummond, for example, believes that you can respect a car’s legacy while also respecting the environment: "Those who just love the roar of an engine need to wake up and smell the coffee," he said.