Car conversions

A few months ago I decided to take a survey via a few channels to get a temperature check on people's mood towards car conversions. When I say conversions, I mean converting an existing car with a grumpy internal combustion engine into a modern, slick, efficient and quiet battery-powered beauty.

I asked a few simple questions, in this order:

  1. Out of 1-10, how likely are you to convert an ICE car?
  2. What would inspire a conversion?
  3. What type of vechicle would you convert?
  4. Are you a business owner that would convert a commercial vehicle?
  5. How much would you spend?
  6. What would stop you from committing to this work?
  7. Should the government provide grants for this?
  8. Any other thoughts?

So the format is simple. I had a statistically significant number of respondants, which was surprising given how little promotion I gave it (a few Tweets, a LinkedIn note and a ping into the Irish EV Owners Association FB group). Running through the above questions, here's what I learned.

Out of 1-10, how likely are you to convert an ICE car?

Interestingly, the majority of folks answered either positively or negatively with very little in the middle. But most folks voted a strong 9 or 10, with an even number of other folks split from 1-5 on scores. Which, if you do NPS math on it, means we got a positive NPS but just about.

This is a surprising one as it means folks are passionate, but also skeptical. It could also be skewed depending on who replied, which is something I don't know about. I might get a more positive reply if I polled folks in old car clubs for cars that don't have particular prestige. A Porsche club would definitely skew negative, for example.

What would inspire a conversion?

In this quesiton, I provided prompts rather than have folks open-ended answer. The format was multiple-choice, so people could select a few options.

Just over 50% of respondants said they would convert a car for environmental reasons. 47% said it was because they wanted to convert a classic car, which was something I suspected would be a motivator to begin with. 40% answered both to impact long-term costs of running a car as well as to keep an old car running. Which both read to me as saying classic car conversions are top of mind for folks. 26% said they wanted to do it as a hobby or project, while 8% said for commercial reasons.

What type of vechicle would you convert?

Looking at the answers above, there's a definite skew towards classic cars again. But after that the distribution is pretty even. And again, commercial vehicles lag behind. But I don't want to ignore commercial vehicles entirely because my guess is there is demand there, just not from my audience.

Are you a business owner that would convert a commercial vehicle?

Again, as above, while this skews heavily towards no, I'm willing to bet this is mostly folks who don't have a commercial vehicle who didn't hit N/A. Maybe that's wishful thinking on my part, but I do think folks are willing to convert commercial vehicles!

How much would you spend?

I prompted folks for a reply on this but also allowed some open answers. So to see folks picking what feel to me as genuine prices is super interesting. And promising for a garage that's willing to figure out how to drive costs down by converting ICE to EV.

To my completely untrained mind, the idea that 60% of folks would self-identify as being willing to spend upwards of €10k is interesting, and then 13% saying a (more realistic) €20k is within reason is interesting. And again, could easily be skewed in various directions if I was more particular about the audience I attracted.

While the numbers might not seem earth-shattering, it sounds to me like people are very willing to spend around the same on a second hand car to convert their ICE to an EV.

What would stop you from committing to this work?

The answers to this were varied and aplenty. But the top three answers, by a country mile, were (in order of preference): price, range & charging infrastructure. All things that EV owners face today anyway. Which is fascinating because this hints, to my mind anyway, that the respondants were not currently EV owners.

Should the government provide grants for this?

People predicably said yes to this. To the 6 who said no, I can only assume you're a TD.

Any other thoughts?

I won't quote anyone verbatim here, but some interesting comments came out in the mix. Some notable topics or themes included:

  • If you own an older or classic car, bringing the cost of conversion close to reality would save a lot of cars and keep an enormous amount of these vehicles on the road for elongated periods of time. There is genuinely nothing more sustainable than that!
  • Cost came up a lot, and the idea that a grant could be extended to new cars which need to drive a lot to reach carbon equity is a good tradeoff, there's a lot more to be said for giving grants and incentives to convert old vehicles which would be a huge carbon negative boost for any country.
  • Someone who has converted an EV noted that the 'problems' are the same as having an old EV: range and infrastructure. Modern EVs don't have as many issues as they're all loaded with tech and big batteries, but older cars are limited space-wise. Loading a huge battery offsets the car balance too much, so having a smaller battery is something you need to live with.
  • Converting cool, old cars like VW Bugs or Mk2's would breathe new life into old cars but also provide great hobbies for folks.
  • Converting a car requires re-registering it and the paperwork, tax nonsense and everything in-between is cumbersome. Should be low-hanging fruit for some plucky government TD, but it's worth noting.
  • Conversions are the way to go to actually drive EV adoption, take carbon off of our roads and provide a wider variety of quiet, efficient, battery-powered cars on our roads. But range and features are something new to educate these new owners on.
  • Some form of formal certification process to ensure road worthiness and safety should be introduced if this went mass-market.

To conclude, there is definitely an apetite for this kind of thing. Whether it's a project or something a bit more professional. Folks seem willing to pay, scared at how much they'll lose in terms of range and flexibility on where they can "fill the tank," but breathgin a new lease of life into old cars seems to be the big draw.

As I said a few times, I do think there's a lot to be said for commercial conversions. But that wasn't really the audience here.

If a someone can figure out a way to drive costs down to convert classic cars to have decent range and access to modern infrastructure as well as potentially providing a route for kits to be sold to hobbyists, I think a business would do well. I'd love to dip my toe into these waters in the next few years!