Are Fleet Conversions the Best Bet for EV Startups?

· · 10 years ago

With so many carmakers releasing and announcing plans for mass-produced electric vehicles, we sometimes overlook what used to be the only way to acquire a plug-in car: conversions. But just because the first Volts and LEAFs will be sitting in home garages a few months from now doesn't mean that conversion companies are closing up shop and giving up the good fight.

The Japanese Postal Service announced today that it will purchase roughly 1,000 converted Fuji Heavy minivehicles from a startup called Zerosports. The company will outfit the vehicles with an electric powertrain powered by lithium ion batteries, yielding a 60-mile range with about an 8-hour charge time. The postal service replaces about 3,000 vehicles per year and has pledged to make one third of future replacement vehicles electric.

Meanwhile, in the United States a company called ALTe is moving forward with its fleet conversion plans using a plug-in series hybrid design similar to the Chevy Volt. ALTe was founded by three former Tesla executives in 2008, and will sell conversions starting at $26,500 to public and private fleet operators. ALTe executives argue that economics make sense vehicle that put on a lot of miles. ALTe has already produced working prototypes of a Ford Crown Victoria and a Ford F-150 pickup truck, having raised $9 million in private capital and $8.4 million in Michigan state tax credits. The company is hoping to build a network of more than 800 shops to perform the conversions.

Both companies, and other conversion outfits, are going after the fleet market, trying to answer a currently unmet need for electrifying vans and trucks. Getting the economics to work for fleet conversions might be the safer bet for EV start-ups than the difficult route taken by companies like Tesla, Fisker and Coda—aiming to build personal electric passenger vehicles from the ground up.

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