Safe & profitable functioning of e-retrofitment industry will underpin India’s transition to electric mobility
The Indian government has set itself an ambitious target of 30 per cent sales penetration of electric passenger cars by 2030. This is a step towards India’s mission to achieve Net Zero emissions by 2070.
In this light, it is impossible to ignore the e-retrofitment industry that is emerging in the country. E-retrofitment refers to the process of replacing the internal combustion engine (ICE) of a vehicle with an electric powertrain to convert it into an electric vehicle (EV).
Retrofitted Maruti Gypsy vehicles were showcased at the Army Commanders’ Conference which was held in New Delhi last month. These were Military Gypsy vehicles that were turned into electric vehicles by a collaboration of the Indian Army Cell, IIT Delhi and a start-up named Tadpole Projects.
However, the industry remains largely unregulated despite the central government’s set regulations for vehicle and retrofitment kit certification.
Some state governments like Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh have come up with retrofitment guidelines. Such policy measures can help startups engaged in offering retrofitment kits, to gain momentum and focus on consumers willing to convert their ICE vehicles to electric vehicles rather than scrapping them.
But the major concern is the goods and services tax levied on the auto components at a rate of 18 per cent, which makes retrofitment costly and unviable in comparison to a new EV.
Retrofitters repurpose the chassis and body of the old vehicle to fit the electric powertrain in it. But, such dismantling and reassembly of the vehicle has its own engineering challenges.
The fuel tank, engine, fuel pipes and exhaust are removed and replaced with a battery, inverter and a motor.
Engineering challenges include sizing of the battery and motor as well as the mechanical coupling of the motor with the existing vehicle transmission system. It is ideal if the weight difference between the original and retrofitted vehicles is around 10 per cent, according to the Automotive Industry Standards 123 (AIS 123) of India.
To complement the addition of new EVs, retrofitting existing ICE vehicles is a potentially viable requirement. The measure increases the useful lifespan of existing vehicles by 5-7 years and allows them to not fall in the trap of the scrappage policy.
However, the EV battery pack, motor and controller are expensive components. So even in a small car, one may end up investing about Rs 4 lakh to convert a petrol / diesel car to an EV.
Another impediment is that the vehicle owner may not be able to take out a loan for the conversion because the lending rates will make the investment unviable and there are no options tailored for the purpose.
Conversion of light commercial vehicles to an EV might be more prudent as it can give a new life to those vehicles through justification of fleet usage volumes.
An example of successful retrofitment is Delhi’s transition to CNG vehicles, and it successfully reduced harmful PM2.5. And this industry will unavoidably sprout up in the country’s vehicle electrification process as well.
What remains to be seen is how the government manages the safe and profitable functioning of this industry. Agencies like the International Centre for Automotive Technology have state-of-the-art testing facilities for approval of electric propulsion kits.
The central government has also released AIS 123 regulations for certification of retrofitment kits and retrofitted vehicles. However, the policymakers must plan for a smooth onboarding of retrofitters into the testing and certification ecosystem.
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