Vehicles swapping vroom for volts at a London garage

All sorts of vehicles are being sent to the London Electric Cars workshop to be reborn as more places raise charges for older, more polluting vehicles, but some say the line should be drawn to classic vehicles that are part of the national heritage of the United Kingdom

  • By Sylvain Peuchmaurd and William Edwards / AFP, LONDON

Tucked away in a workshop beneath a London Underground line, the vehicles undergo a green makeover by getting rid of their cylinders, spark plugs and pistons for electric motors.

“We’re not creating the carbon dioxide associated with creating a new car and we’re not scrapping a perfectly valid old car. It’s a win-win,” said Matthew Quitter, founder of London Electric Cars.

London Electric Cars is one of the companies taking advantage of the UK’s flexible regulatory environment and special fondness for cars to help grow the fledgling industry.

Photo: AFP

In the workshop, all kinds of vehicles have come to life: Minis, Bentleys, old ones – like a 20-year-old Volvo station wagon – and other less old ones, including a Fiat Multipla that looks like a platypus.

Some families are turning to Quitter to save their beloved vehicles from the crusher, with places like London raising road charges for older, more polluting vehicles.

“They just don’t want to scrap this car because they have an emotional attachment,” he said. “Kids grew up on it and instead want to see it reborn as an electric vehicle.”

Photo: AFP

The cost of a conversion starts at £30,000 ($30,000), the equivalent of a new entry-level electric vehicle.

The refurbished vehicles have a range of 80km to 300km, depending on the batteries.

That’s more than enough when ’90-95% of journeys within London are under six miles [9.7km]“said Quitter.

Old engines can be kept, resold or destroyed.

Most vehicles are equipped with Nissan Leaf or Tesla engines, in order to stick as closely as possible to the original performance of the vehicle and to avoid having to adapt the brakes or the transmission.

“People are realizing that combustion engines are a disaster, they stink, they’re full of fumes, they make a lot of noise, and they’re partly responsible for climate breakdown,” Quitter said. “I think…we will consider owning classic cars with gasoline engines as a kind of anachronism.”

However, the umbrella body for historic motoring clubs, the Fédération Internationale des Vehicules Anciens, said in 2019 that such conversions take away the character of older vehicles and instead called for reversible modifications.

For purists, noise, vibrations and the smell of gasoline are part of the pleasure of an old vehicle.

Yet Quitter customers “are not at all interested in it”, he said, adding that they want the “reliability” of electric cars without the smell and exhaust of a vehicle. gasoline.

He also dismissed objections from those who say such modifications of classic vehicles are a desecration, saying no one complains that old homes are equipped with modern conveniences.

“At the end of the day it’s a very personal matter of which cars, for you, would be sacrilege to convert,” he said, adding that he would be unlikely ever to convert an Aston Martin.

He is joined on this point by Garry Wilson, head of the Historic & Classic Vehicles Alliance – which works to preserve vintage vehicles – who cited the Aston DB5, James Bond’s famous car.

Switching engines is something that’s been done almost since the beginning of automotive history, but classic cars should be treated with respect, Wilson said.

‘There are an awful lot of vehicles out there where we should class them as part of our national heritage, and therefore should in theory be treated as a Grade I listed building, and should not be altered,’ he said. declared.

“We would be horrified if someone installed new PVC windows at Blenheim Palace,” Wilson said. “Frankly, the Houses of Parliament better be torn down and rebuilt with modern materials, but Big Ben is attached to it, it’s one of our national treasures.”

Wilson is also skeptical of the environmental benefits of such conversions for classic vehicles that only travel a few hundred miles per year on average, compared to 11,587 km per year for contemporary vehicles.

This is especially true if parts for batteries and motors come from halfway around the world, he said.

Instead, he believes the solution lies in synthetic fuels, which emit carbon dioxide but are made by absorbing it, and which he says would see the sector reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

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