By Nick Carey
LONDON (Reuters) - British electric vehicle supplier Bedeo said on Wednesday that it has launched a service to convert thousands of diesel vans to electric hybrids, starting in France to take advantage of government subsidies for retrofitting fossil-fuel models.
France provides a 9,000-euro ($9,509) subsidy for EV retrofitters, though each retrofitted model must pass government vehicle tests.
Converting fossil-fuel models to electric is a growing industry, though France is alone so far in providing a broad regulatory framework and subsidies.
Bedeo's basic conversion kit costs 30,000 euros and consists of a 37-kilowatt hour battery and Protean Electric in-wheel motors - stand-alone motors housed in all or some wheels of an EV that do not need axles or powertrains - on the rear two wheels of a diesel van.
The plug-in battery provides up to 120 kilometres (75 miles) of range, which Bedeo CEO Osman Boyner said should cover 95% of delivery routes, then provide conventional diesel range.
Bedeo is initially targeting 20,000 van conversions a year and Boyner said the company's customer base will most likely be smaller fleets of vans with costly additions such as refrigerated units and which cannot afford expensive electric models.
"What we are seeing more and more is that who is going to be left behind in this transition is the smaller fleets," Boyner told Reuters. "The guy who owns five vans, what does he do?"
In order to qualify for French subsidies Bedeo, which makes electric powertrains for vans for world No. 3 automaker Stellantis, will set up a manufacturing facility in France for converting diesel vans in the first quarter of 2024 and is currently looking at production options, Boyner said.
Bedeo acquired Protean Electric in 2022 from a unit of China Evergrande Group. Chinese carmaker Dongfeng Motor has built small tests fleets using Protean in-wheel motors and is looking at launching new models with them around the middle of the decade, Protean CEO Andrew Whitehead said.
Whitehead said a couple of other Chinese carmakers and three major European carmakers are also looking at using Protean's in-wheel motors.
($1 = 0.9464 euros)
(This story has been corrected to fix the CEO Osman Boyner's name throughout and corrects the type of facility to be set up in France in paragraph 8)
(Reporting By Nick Carey; Editing by Sharon Singleton)