Automotive: the first timid steps of the electric retrofit

The electric retrofit is slowly starting to boil, even if the take-off expected by industry players is much slower than expected. The announcement a few weeks ago of the partnership between Renault and the young Phoenix Mobility, to test the conversion of the thermal Renault Masters into electric vehicles, was well received by the entire sector.

“It’s very positive! This shows that manufacturers are interested in this and that the idea of ​​retrofitting is starting to normalize,” notes Stéphane Wimez, co-president of the AIRe (Actors in the Electric Retrofitting Industry) association.

Many startups, which bet on the publication in April 2020 of the decree authorizing this practice in France, had to face their problems with patience. They need several million euros to approve the “kits” (equipment and processes) that will convert their vehicles to lithium-ion.

But the ongoing fundraising was blocked by the health crisis, then by the economic context. “Investors are reluctant to invest in industrial processes”, testifies Aymeric Libeau, founder of the start-up Transition One, which especially wants to industrialize the conversion of the Renault Twingo and Fiat 500.

interested investors

However, the situation is slowly unraveling. Phoenix Mobility, which specializes in converting utility vehicles, raised $3 million last November, mostly from Angelsquare, Meta Partners and Bpifrance. REV Mobilities (which intends to convert old cars, SUVs and buses) has raised 4 million euros from individuals and a well-known bank, whose name will be revealed in a few days. “Our total roundtable, which reaches 10 million, will be finalized in the next few weeks”, guarantees its founder Arnaud Pigounides.

For its part, Transition One is finalizing a first round of financing of 5 to 10 million euros from foreign investors, hoping to have raised between 20 and 25 million in the next seven months.

“Retrofitting is attracting more and more interest,” says Stéphane Wimez. AIRe is therefore organizing an event on the subject, which will take place at Bpifrance’s facilities at the end of September, and for which around thirty funds and investors have already confirmed their presence. “We are following this sector with interest and we want to help it structure itself”, confirms Bpifrance.

Approvals could therefore multiply in the coming months. A pioneer in this field, Stéphane Wimez’s company, Méhari Club Cassis, has already approved the conversion of the 2 CV, the 2 CV minivan, and has completed the necessary procedures for the 4 L. the Renault Traffic.

Thousands of quote requests

“We have made good progress in engineering our kits, so that we can get several approvals from June 2023 onwards”, expects Arnaud Pigounides, who wants to homologate around thirty vehicles in four years (15 vintage cars, 15 SUVs and 5 buses). Aymeric Libeau expects deliveries to begin in late 2023.

Industry players claim to be “crushing on demand”. “Traffic on our sites is exploding and some of our members have thousands of quote requests,” explains Stéphane Wimez. Méhari Club Cassis registered 150 orders for 2 CV and 2 CV “retrofit” vans, which must now be delivered.

A potential market

Pending its approvals, REV claims 800 pre-orders for vintage cars and 1,500 for SUVs, which it hopes to be able to deliver next year. Phoenix Mobility pre-sold 1,000 kits to Renault as part of the partnership announced at the Master, even before the first deliveries of Trafics.

“Given the desire to accelerate the decarbonisation of transport, retrofitting represents a credible alternative for new or even used vehicles,” said Julie Vatier, Renault’s After Sales Director. “With this partnership, we wanted to explore this market, which has real meaning and, undoubtedly, potential”, continues the manager.

Taking into account its estimated cost of between 15,000 and 30,000 euros depending on the vehicle, excluding bonuses and prizes), the retrofit will be cheaper and will emit less COtwo than buying a new vehicle, professionals plead – and even more so if the vehicle has been transformed for professional needs. There will still need to be an actual offer to prove it.

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