Could Conventional Cars Be Converted to EVs to Fight Climate Change?
As the world transitions to electric vehicles (EVs), what should happen to all the gas guzzlers that will remain on the roads?
This is an important question because even if the U.S. achieves President Joe Biden’s goal of 50 percent new EV car sales by 2030, many people will still be driving their older fossil fuel-powered rides.
“This is something that’s not being talked about enough,” EVAdoption CEO Loren McDonald said, as The Guardian reported. “We’re buying more new gas-powered vehicles each year than we are electric. So the supply of gas car vehicles keeps rising … and people are holding on to their vehicles longer.”
One potential solution to this problem is to convert conventional vehicles into EVs. In theory, it’s a simple process, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
“Although uncommon, a vehicle with an internal combustion engine can be converted to an all-electric vehicle by completely removing the engine and adding a battery pack, one or more electric motors, high-voltage cables, and instrumentation,” the DOE explained, adding that it’s important to make sure that the converted car both has the space for and can support the weight of the new battery and motors while still meeting emissions and crash-safety standards.
However, in practice EV conversions are pricey and therefore out of reach for many, as The Guardian noted.
For example, the San-Diego-based conversion company Zelectric Motors said its conversions usually start at around $70,000, five thousand dollars more than the average cost of a new EV at $65,000.
“It’s not a $5,000 to $10,000 retrofit that’s going to save your old car,” the company’s CEO David Benardo said, as The Guardian reported.
The reason is both the current cost of batteries and the fact that each car has different requirements, demanding specialized labor. The company mostly retrofits vintage Porsches and Volkswagens and only works on around six to eight conversions annually.
There was a potential sign of hope in January when Toyota debuted two green versions of its classic 1980s Corolla GT-S at the 2023 Tokyo Auto Salon, as KTSM 9 News reported at the time.
“The reality is that we cannot achieve zero carbon emissions in 2050 simply by switching all new cars sales to EVs,” Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda said in a speech announcing the conversions.
However, Toyota further told The Guardian that the company did not have plans at the moment to convert its older models en masse.
The two cars displayed at the show were converted differently. One, the AE86 BEV, was electrified using a Toyota Tundra hybrid pickup truck motor and a Prius Prime plug-in hybrid battery pack. The second, the AE86 H2, maintained the combustion engine but ran on hydrogen instead.
So-called clean fuels like hydrogen are the solution pushed by the Rhodium Group in a 2021 paper. Transportation is currently the U.S. sector that emits the most greenhouse gas emissions, and even the highest possible uptake of EVs won’t see it reaching net zero by 2050. Even if almost 90 percent of light-duty vehicle sales are electric by 2035, transportation would still emit 525 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The report argued that the remaining emissions could be cut by switching to decarbonized fuels such as biofuels, electrofuels, or fossil fuels that are successfully offset. Another solution? Making travel more efficient.
“The most direct way to reduce emissions from transportation is to move people and goods more efficiently—either by improving the fuel economy of cars, trucks, buses, ships and airplanes, or reducing how many miles those vehicles need to move people or goods,” the report authors wrote.
Finally, instead of converting private fossil fuel cars to EVs or running them on alternative fuels, we can move away from a one-person-one-car transportation model altogether. C40 Cities Executive Director Mark Watts said that one of the most important things urban leaders could do to tackle the climate crisis was to prioritize pedestrians and cyclists in design over private motor vehicles.
“A global shift away from cars to more active forms of travel is exactly what the world needs right now,” he said. “Replacing a trip by car with active travel is a highly effective way to cut emissions quickly.”
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