Electric traction instead of internal combustion engine? For which machines does it make sense | Economy in Germany and worldwide: news and analysis | DW

“The conversion of diesel buses to electric buses is not only technically exciting, but also economically beneficial for all parties,” says Hans-Georg Herb, CEO of Elerra in Erfurt, in eastern Germany. ). Herba’s company specializes in retrofitting traditional vehicles with electric motors. Now the turn in his workshop has reached the regular bus, which has been running on a diesel engine for 10 years. The old engine has already been removed, it remains to build in a new one: the rear axle and two electric motors in the wheel hubs. “It looks simple, but it’s high-tech inside,” explains Herb.

The new design takes up less space than the old one, so there is plenty of room for electric batteries. “Eight batteries with an energy capacity of 200 kWh can be built in here. This will be enough for such a bus for about 250 kilometers,” says Herb.

Electric bus based on a used bus – profitable

Depending on the battery size, retrofitting costs between 300,000 and 340,000 euros. Expensive, if you do not take into account that a new electric bus costs twice as much today. Herb expects to receive new orders to re-equip regular buses. “This year we still have time to re-equip three buses,” he says. But the plan for next year is to re-equip 60-70 buses with electric traction, in cooperation with other workshops – to bring this number to 200-300.

The rear axle of the electric bus with electric motors built into the wheel hub, photo 2022

The rear axle of the electric bus with electric motors built into the wheel hub

Demand for electric buses for urban transport is growing thanks to new EU rules: more than half of new cars must be equipped with electric motors. Only in Germany more than 3,000 pieces are purchased annually and more than 15,000 in the EU as a whole. Industrial manufacturers provide so much yet they can’t. At the same time, for transport companies, regular electric buses are a profitable alternative to traditional ones, since electric buses need less repairs and are cheaper to operate than diesel ones – depending on the configuration, up to 60 percent.

Such retooling will become an international trend, Herb expects: battery prices are falling, mass production is lowering the prices of components for electric motors built into the wheel hub. Soon, the cost of retrofitting can be reduced by almost half. “I can imagine that almost half of the buses operating today will be re-equipped. If we want to achieve decarbonizationthen without such re-equipment we will not achieve this goal,” the head of Elerra believes.

Cars? “Just as a hobby”

Basically, any petrol or diesel car can be made electric car: take off internal combustion engine, put an electric motor and batteries, as well as change electronics. The same Hans-Georg Herb first tried such a re-equipment in 2014 on the famous Porsche 911. And only then he set about old-timers, freight and passenger vehicles.

1993 Jaguar will get electric propulsion: It's more of a hobby, auto mechanic Herb says.  In the photo: Hang-Georg Herb shows work on re-equipping an old Jaguar with a new electric motor

“Jaguar” 1993 will receive electric traction. “It’s more of a hobby,” says auto mechanic Herb

But not everyone can afford the price of re-equipping an oldtimer: about 60 thousand euros such work will cost the owner of a 1993 Jaguar limousine. “The client asked to electrify this car. I used in this case the old modules of the company Tesla“, – Herb explains his work. To understand how such a bill is formed, he explains: the motor and battery cost at least 10 thousand euros for oldtimers, the re-equipment itself takes more than 100 hours of work for a car mechanic, this is the biggest cost item.

Purely economically, such retooling does not make sense, says Herb. “These cars are usually rarely used, so maintenance costs do not play a role. Such retrofitting is more of a hobby,” the auto mechanic believes. Nevertheless, requests from private clients do not stop coming to him, and he, in his own words, gets tired of repeating the same thing. “Well, for example, a person calls and asks, Is it possible to retrofit a VW Polo. I answer: “If you buy a VW E-Up (mini-electric car. – Red.), then it will turn out to be both cheaper and, possibly, better than our final result. There is no point in retrofitting the VW Polo, I have to explain this to so many people,” Herb summed up.

Commercial vehicles are another niche

In addition to the electric bus, Herb’s workshop has three new trucks – a small Fuso truck made by Daimler and Mitsubishi. Manufacturers do not yet offer electric versions of these trucks, so they are also being re-equipped into all-wheel drive electric trucks, with new software for automotive electronics, which should ensure the efficient operation of the new engine and batteries. “This vehicle is well suited for winter conditions, so we will make a small series of such vehicles for urban conditions,” explains Herb.

Hans-Georg Herb and his workshop are by far not the only ones in the EU to offer such a retrofit. Their clients are small European municipalities looking for options to move away from combustion engines in an effort to reduce emissions, and delivery companies looking to convert their vehicles.

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