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“Retrofitting Is a Driver of the Energy Transition”

“Retrofitting Is a Driver of the Energy Transition”
“Retrofitting can be seen as a driver of the energy transition”: Interview with Qinomic’s Co-Founder (iStock)

Qinomic is a French start-up created in 2021 by four people from the automotive and chemical industries. Its specialty: vehicle retrofit, i.e. converting vehicles with combustion engines into electrically powered models. The company has partnered with French auto manufacturer Stellantis to develop a solution for light commercial vehicles by 2024. We met with Frederic Strady, Chief Executive, and one of the co-founders of Qinomic. He gave us more details about their retrofit solution. We also talked about the energy transition and the end of thermal vehicles in Europe by 2035.

Hicham Dhouibi contributed to this report.

Retrofitting electric vehicles offers many advantages for businesses looking to reduce their carbon footprint and operating costs. Qinomic has made it its business. We spoke with Frédéric Strady, Chief Executive and one of the co-founders. Previously, Mr. Strady was Chief Executive for France and Romania at Bertrandt, a global engineering leader in the automotive industry.

You founded your company in 2021, but you’d been in the automotive sector for 30 years. Why was this the right time?

Frédéric Strady: “We started with an observation: the automotive sector is going through a revolution like one we only see every 100 years. It is a triple revolution. First, it is a revolution in use cases. Our children will not consume mobility the way we did. The emergence of car sharing demonstrates this. 

It is also a technological revolution. EVs are nibbling away at the mobility market and tomorrow hydrogen will do the same. Lastly, there is a regulatory revolution. In France with the implementation of the ZFE (low emission zone in urban areas with more than 150,000 inhabitants) and in Europe with the European Commission’s decision to ban the sale of thermal vehicles by 2035. 

So we decided to create Qinomic with the idea of upcycling and circular economy. We are convinced that a single vehicle can have several lives.”

What is retrofitting in concrete terms and can it accelerate the energy transition?

Frédéric Strady: “Retrofitting is the technical action of changing a thermal drivetrain into an electric or hydrogen drivetrain. The retrofitted vehicles have already been driven, we give them a second life cycle.

It can be seen as a driver of the energy transition. It is obvious that we will not be able to transform the 40 million thermal vehicles currently in France into all-electric vehicles by 2035 but it will be a big step forward. We are convinced that a vehicle can and will have different lives throughout duration of use. Retrofitting is an alternative that will definitely help accelerate the transition.”

“We keep the chassis and that’s the difficulty compared to a vehicle that’s been designed to be electric. We have to adapt the battery pack to the existing chassis while respecting the weight distribution.” (Courtesy of Qinomic)

What are the retrofit criteria?

Frédéric Strady: “In France, manufacturers can upgrade the thermal drivetrain into an electric or hydrogen drivetrain by respecting several criteria. These criteria, which were published in March 2020 [text in French], include the following: the passenger car or light commercial vehicle must be more than 5 years old. This measure also concerns 2-wheeled vehicles older than 3 years. The retrofitted vehicle must have the same mass and load distribution as the thermal vehicle. It must also keep the same power and performance as well as the same level of comfort and safety.”

What do you keep from the combustion car?

Frédéric Strady: “We keep the car body, the ground connections and we change the combustion engine to integrate the entire electric drivetrain and the battery pack. The idea is to adapt the electronics to maintain comfort and safety features. We also replace the gearbox by a reduction gear so that we only have one gear.”

It is a motor-reduction unit that replaces the combustion engine and the gearbox. The wheels remain driven via the original universal joints. (Courtesy of Qinomic)

Who is interested in retrofitting?

Frédéric Strady: “It can be leasing companies that decide to retrofit vehicles in buy-back schemes. It can be fleet managers. It can also be craftsmen or delivery people who wish to retrofit their commercial vehicles because they can no longer enter low-emission zones for example in the course of their work.” 

The partnership with Stellantis will focus on commercial vehicles for professionals.

Frédéric Strady: “Absolutely, this partnership covers all commercial vehicles within a European perimeter and Stellantis will have a commercial offer in 2024. 

And as part of our partnership, we also co-develop vehicle retrofits based on Stellantis vehicles. We are positioning ourselves as suppliers of replacement components to encourage the emergence and mass acceptance of retrofit. Our specialty is intersystems. We compose the drivetrain and we make substitute components such as ECUs (Electronic Control Unit), HMI (Human Machine Interface) that adapt to different electronic architectures.”

The automotive sector is going through a revolution like one we only see every 100 years.’ Frédéric Strady, Co-founder Qinomic

Do you have a prototype ready?

Frédéric Strady: “We plan to bring out a fully retrofitted utility vehicle in the first quarter of 2023. This will allow us to validate our product and propose a range of retroffited LCVs for the mass market in 2024.”

And what about the cost of a retrofitted vehicle?

Frédéric Strady: “Considering the fact that you already have the commercial vehicle with your special equipment according to your activity, the retrofit today is a solution that makes sense economically. The fact that it will be done with already-proven electric traction components makes it even more affordable. This will lead to an interesting economic equation for the company that wishes to retrofit.”

What are the French and European perspectives for the retrofitting business?

Frédéric Strady: “European perspectives are obviously very important because we are heading towards a harmonized retrofit regulation. For the moment, each country has its own regulation. So having European harmonization on the way to retrofit a vehicle will offer new perspectives and allow for mass retrofitting. 

Concerning the French market, we are heading towards a market of around up to 1.2 million retrofitted vehicles by 2030, all types combined [Source in French: Ademe].

And for Qinomic specifically, we are aiming at a few thousand retrofitted vehicles per year.”