PEI business converting second hand vehicles to electric

STRATFORD, PEI — At first glance, it would appear you are looking at a very small pickup truck or a minivan with the back of the roof removed.

What you may not realize is the car with a pickup bed is actually a 2010 Toyota Corolla and is 100 per cent electric.

Upcycle Green Technology Auto Shop in Stratford has spent the last two years developing its new vehicle concept, a car the founders believe will change the way Islanders think about driving.

So far, the shop has completed two prototypes. Both are converted, fully electric Toyotas built between 2009 and 2013, Natal Antonini, mechanical engineer told SaltWire NetWork during a tour of their garage on Aug. 23.

“We are producing electric vehicles, EVs, that are twice as green as other EVs because we are using used cars,” he said.

Antonini began working on the project in 2020 after moving to PEI from Brazil through the provincial nominee program.

Initially, the plan was to convert light pickup trucks to electric and resell them. However, after looking at the average cost of a truck in Charlottetown and the number of batteries it would take to power them, it made more sense to use second-hand vehicles.

“In Brazil, we have a lot of these small pickup trucks. I realized I could convert Toyota Corollas, which is a very common car here and a very reliable car,” said Antonini.

The process starts with cutting off the back section of the vehicle at the back passenger door. Next, the shop installs a back-end loader, which can hold up to 500 kilograms of weight. Most light pickup trucks can hold about 700 kilograms — not a huge difference, especially considering the cost of transportation, said Antonini.

“If you have a light pickup truck, you are going to use 15 litres for each 100 kilometres, it’s $30 dollars each 100 kilometres. This car, you’re going to be using $2.50 for every 100 kilometres,” he said.

The biggest issue the company faces right now is supply issues, due to the increased demand for EVs across the province in the last several years.

In order to make the car affordable, serial production is needed. This is the next step for the business, as they plan to begin rolling out models for sale next year.

“We are working to produce from five to 10 cars and lend them to some customers to test them and help us to finish the development,” said Antonini.

“In the middle of next year, we intend to start the production of 100 cars.”

Business owner Magali Freiberger told SaltWire Network said she is excited about how far the project has come.

“It’s the combination of being greener and keeping that money in your pocket,” said Freiberger.

Having access to these vehicles going forward will be beneficial for the community, she says, especially to help meet the provincial goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2030.

“For many businesses, the question is always about money. That’s a goal for us, too, but you know a company is good if you can keep the car in your work fleet for twice as long,” she said.

Antonini agrees.

“No big car companies are going to come here, but you can have a small car company here and create local, qualified jobs, you can create prosperity for people here,” he said. “I like the idea because in the future, we want to make a franchise out of this car so every small city in Canada can dream about having a small car company in their town.”