We had a chat with Hemank Dabhade – a Pune based engineer who runs an R&D facility dedicated to electric vehicles and aspires to launch commercial retrofitting kits to convert ICE vehicles to electric. His team has so far successfully converted 8 ICE vehicles including a Chevrolet Beat and a Maruti 800. Hemank holds a Masters degree in Intelligent Transport Systems and has experience developing performance cars for motorsport purposes in his earlier outings.
Mehul Rungta talked to Hemank on behalf of EVreporter to understand about the conversion process and his approach to it.
How many vehicles have you converted to electric so far?
We have done 8 vehicles so far. We are converting multiple vehicles to experiment with different weights and performance cycles, and develop electric vehicle conversion kits that will cater to different vehicle weights, i.e. < 1000 kg, 1000 to 1500 kg, 1500 to 2000 kg and two-wheeler segment as well.
We are trying to cater to different categories and post certification, we would be able to launch kits for different models in the market.
What is the difference in the weight when you convert an ICE vehicle to an EV? Also, could you shed some light on the process of conversion?
With the battery technology available today, converting any petrol or diesel car to electric with a long range setup would increase the weight by about 10 to 15 percent. When I talk about a long range, I mean somewhere close to 200 km.
For example, take a Swift Desire which weighs around a 1000 kg. When you convert it to a full electric vehicle with a range of 250 km, you should expect an overall weight gain of 25 percent. So, the EV would weigh somewhere around 1250 kg and would have equivalent/higher performance than stock Swift Desire. However, if you’re ready to compromise on performance or on the range, you can match the weight of the vehicle.
In the entire conversion, power to weight ratio is an important factor as it is the weight of the vehicle plus the weight of the added system that the electrical components have to carry.
Second criteria would be the required top speed and acceleration, and this would determine what sort of a motor or the power plant that you want to install. To reach 100 km per hour as top speed and 30 seconds for 0-100 kmph, you would reverse work out at nearly 20-25 kW of a motor power requirement. While calculating the motor requirement, you would be assuming some battery weight as well.
Once you have the motor in place, you would finalise what sort of batteries you need. We prefer LFP as these are safer than other kinds, easy to manage in terms of temperature and charge/discharge cycles.
How does it affect the suspension when there is an increase, as you said, of 25 percent in the weight of the vehicle?
Coming to the dynamics of the car, the chassis and the suspension, we try and balance out the weight of the vehicle and the loading of the components with respect to the original suspension design. There are cases when we have been required to modify suspensions. However, one can compromise either on the performance or on the range in order to achieve the original weight distribution. This is what we do. We either undersize the power plant or we undersize the battery pack.
Coming to the actual implementation part, how much time did you spend in converting, let’s say, Chevrolet Beat into an EV?
Time required has been reducing over the past few years. When I started off with the first car, it took us six months to convert the car. But as of today, we can convert the car in less than a week. And, we want the time to go down to just as good as eight hours.
By the end of this year, we aim to have a plug and play kit that anyone can install in their car (via authorised dealers) within one working day.
How many people work on a particular vehicle?
There are 8 people in my R&D team. Two on the mechanical works, two on the electronics and two on the vehicle part. Also, two guys who handle the sourcing and other operational tasks. This is our workforce for RnD tasks. When we have a ready plug and play solution, 3 people will be sufficient to carry out the conversion process.
How much does it cost you to convert a particular car into an EV?
The cost for RnD is documented in a very different way.
Production cost is dynamic and depends on the range/performance requirements from the converted car. If you talk about material cost, it goes up to roughly INR 5-6 lakhs for a mid-sized vehicle with a medium powertrain. Our goal is to make this conversion so feasible that the ROI for any person would be less than a year.
Would it be a nice idea to combine EV conversions with scrapping policy and convert these old vehicles into electric?
The problem is that it is not only the engine that gets degraded. The car would definitely have to undergo fitness tests from the authorities as there are multiple other systems in the car that need to certified including the chassis, brakes, suspensions and many others. So I believe that if there is a whole ecosystem of refurbishing companies who can get the car to a good condition, get them re-certified and then install an EV kit in them, it could be a feasible path for the old cars.
Once you have converted the vehicle, how does the registration part of the process work keeping in mind that all ICE cars come with a RC that has the engine ID written in it?
Technically, the process for this is to have certification for your battery pack, and your conversion kit. If you have a certificate for your product from certifying agencies such as ARAI and you sell this product to a customer saying this car has been fitted with product certified from ARAI, they would then have to apply to RTO for a fresh RC, just like a CNG Kit.
There are a few other companies in this space like eTrio. Do you see a segment evolving here?
Yes, eTrio already has kits. I believe, the more the merrier in this segment. Looking at the country as a whole, if we have these conversation kits available on a mass scale and from multiple companies, it will actually complement everyone.
Would you like to tell our audience about your YouTube channel so they can also follow up on all the work you are doing?
I started my own YouTube channel where I have started a small series on EV conversions. So season one, episode 1 and 2 have been released regarding the conversion of a Maruti 800 into a small, electric, fun Go-Kart kind of vehicle. We will be uploading a lot of new content and academic videos on this channel.