Interest in electric vehicles is at an all-time high, with sales of new EVs up 55% in 2022 compared with the year prior. But there are still a lot of gas cars on the roads today, and it’s likely there will be for a long time.
A burgeoning industry is breathing new life, and power, into internal combustion vehicles by converting them to electric. Both the shops and aftermarket community are growing substantially to meet the new demand.
“This is a 1976 BMW 2002 — really fun-to-drive car but underpowered,” Michael Bream, founder and CEO of EV West, told CNBC. “This particular customer decided that he wanted to go what we call ‘the whole hog,’ and he’s doing the 550 horsepower Tesla drive unit in this.”
Bream’s shop, based in San Diego, California, is one of the early pioneers in EV conversions and has become so popular it has a four-to-five-year wait to get in the door.
“Being involved in electric cars right now is like being involved in computers in the ’90s … we want this transition to sustainable fuels to be fun and exciting for people that are a part of car culture and automobile enthusiasts,” Bream said.
In addition to conversion shops, there is a fast-growing community of DIYers taking these projects on themselves. The complexity of electric vehicles can be intimidating, but that hasn’t stopped 14-year-old Frances Farnam, who is working on converting a 1976 Porsche 914. She got the car three years ago and has been documenting the process on her YouTube channel, Tinkergineering.
“I’ve always wanted an electric car, and my mom has a BMW i3,” Frances said. “I hope what I’m doing with this is I’m proving that it’s not too challenging … I’m just doing this in my backyard with my dad.”
She recently finished priming the car for paint and is getting ready to rebuild it. A 914 internet community has been instrumental in helping her and her father through the whole process. To learn how to work with the electrical systems, she took a course with Legacy EV, an electric vehicle aftermarket shop, that taught her the ins and outs of doing a conversion.
The aftermarket ecosystem seems to be blowing up with EV-focused parts to support people like Frances who want to build their own electric car. Both Ford and GM offer components for EV conversions, and there are several other companies entering the space as well. The Specialty Equipment Market Association, a trade organization that represents automotive manufacturers and resellers, said it has seen the number of EV-focused products in the market grow exponentially.
“We started two years ago at SEMA with having an EV section at the show,” said Mike Spagnola, president and CEO of SEMA. “It was 2,000 square feet. This last year it was 22,000 square feet … I’m sure in the next five years it’ll be 100,000 square feet.”
Watch the video to learn about converting internal combustion engine vehicles to EVs and whether it could go mainstream.