“At the London Classic Car Show, we had the only electric E-Type Series 1 ¼ in the world, as far as we know. We had a small percentage of people coming over to us to say, ‘ooh sacrilege.’ Two weeks later, we went to a specialist Jaguar enthusiast meet and we didn’t get a single reaction like that – because those people own E-Types already.”
Steve Drummond doesn’t mince his words when it comes to business and his business, Electrogenic, has never been busier.
If you’re unfamiliar, Electrogenic is a company at the cutting edge of what once was a cottage industry – restomodding. In essence, a restomod is a classic car that has been retrofitted with newer parts but, in Electrogenic’s case, they fit petrol-powered classics with electric drivetrains.
“There have been hobbyists making electric conversions for a long, long time, you know, since the 50s,” explains Steve. “But roll back three or four years, it then, for the very first time became possible to make a car that would actually be worth having – reasonable performance, reasonable range, all that stuff so we thought, well, let’s try.”
Drummond’s nonchalance belies his expertise.
“We started Electrogenic because we thought it would be a laugh. I’m an engineer and I’ve been in the environmental side of things for a long, long time. You know, energy, climate change, all that stuff. Ian [Newstead, Electrogenic co-founder and MD] has been in garages all the time and has been very interested in the more local environmental stuff – petrol fumes and so on.”
“We were talking about making an electric car just to try and improve the performance on an old VW bus, and we did some research and came to the conclusion that, for the first time in history, you could make a vehicle that was worth owning, you know.”
Since then, Electrogenic’s roster of restomods has grown remarkably. Most recently, the company has turned its hand to a Citroen DS, swapping out the original car’s 2-litre four-cylinder for one of its new Hyper9 brushless electric motors.
“Nobody gets attached to the sound of the DS engine, which was underpowered originally,” explains Drummond. “And it also looks space – it looks like it always should have been electric. And it is so much nicer to drive now that it’s electric – all of our cars are so much nicer to drive.”
For hardcore petrolheads, that last point might irk somewhat. But Electrogenic takes a more holistic approach to its restomods than you might think.
“A conversation we have a lot with our customers is, ‘Don’t get anxious about the range and therefore shove a load of batteries into it, making it heavier, changing the handling – don’t do that. Think about how you’re going to use it, maybe fewer batteries, and have it lighter on its feet.’ So, for example, with the E-Type conversion, our base conversion is actually lighter than the original car, so it’s actually really nice and nimble and just pleasurable to drive. You can then add the expansion pack, which gives you another 90 miles of range and it becomes slightly heavier than the original, but not much, actually.”
“We converted the only real Porsche 356 in the world,” continues Drummond. “Now there are a number of, you know, kit cars. But we try and drive all the cars when they come in, and this one had a completely reconditioned engine, it had only done 100 or so miles since it was completely rebuilt. I drove it and it’s quite fussy on the gears, it’s got a very low, very narrow torque band, so you’ve got to be right on the gears.”
“But make it electric, and because you’ve got torque over a much wider RPM range, that means you’re using the gears because that’s fun. You’re more relaxed and because it’s not in this narrow band it becomes more relaxing and nicer to drive. We’re improving the way it feels to mechanically drive it.”
“The other thing, not so of the Porsche but definitely true of quite a lot of cars – [Volkswagen] Beetles, Karmann Ghias, old Land Rovers – they’re not comfortable to drive in modern traffic, because they’re too slow. So, you can’t pull out of a T-junction, you can’t go down a slip road onto a ring road because, by the time it gets going, it’s still doing 45 mph and everything else is doing 70.”
Electrogenic keeps the gearbox in most of the electric cars it reimagines – something that is highly unusual for restomodding and electric cars in general.
“It’s customer demand, and most of our customers want gears,” says Drummond. “People recognise the benefits of going electric in terms of maintenance, reliability – those things. But a lot of people don’t want to drive something that is so much less involved because, you know, they have their classic cars that they like driving. Probably nine out of ten of our customers want to have the gears.”
So, who are Electrogenic’s customers?
“The traditional, if you like, group of customers is people that have got a car, it’s been in the family for ages, and it needs a new lease of life,” says Drummond. “They want it to be more environmentally friendly, so they strip out their old car, and then we come up with a spec and that’s that.”
“They’re probably in their late 50s, early 60s. Typically, they know how to maintain their old car, but perhaps a bit bored of doing so. They don’t want to be continually belching fumes into the future.”
“The next group, which is increasing and was very much true in the lockdowns, is somebody who just wants to buy a car,” he continues. “Typically, they’re in their 30s or 40s, got a bit of money and they want to own a classic car. But they realise they don’t have the time, money, expertise, or energy to keep it on the road,” he continues. “Maybe they live in London, so they’ve got the ULEZ to think about. They call us up and they say, ‘I want a classic car, can you convert it? What sort of classic car should I buy?’ to which the answer is, anything you like, really.”
However, Electrogenic also has a third customer base which isn’t as glamorous but could be far more lucrative.
“The third and final group is businesses. We’re a tech company and we’re selling our tech to businesses so they can make their cars electric.”
For Drummond and Newstead, businesses wanting to swap over existing fleet vehicles to electric drivetrains is the future of the company.
“For our corporate customers who are selling new cars, that’s their existential threat,” Drummond says of the UK’s looming ban on new petrol and diesel cars, set to be introduced in 2030. “They need to find a convincing electric solution and we’re one of those solutions. People repowering existing vehicles, it’s definitely a better environmental option because you avoid all the emissions associated with manufacturing a new car. Will it be encouraged by legislation? I don’t know.”
“The future that we’re building is massively expanding our corporate customers. So, you know, there are lots of small volume manufacturers and restorers in the UK. But people making new cars, they’re not going to be able to sell them in eight years’ time unless they’ve got an electric solution. Are they going to wait for BMW to come up with a bespoke solution? Well, maybe BMW will but it is quite possible that BMW has its own problems delivering its own product range – don’t hold your breath. We’re an alternative.”
“Basically, we have a tech business developing automotive tech, which we’re putting into old cars. But the fact that it’s our own tech gives us immense flexibility,” explains Drummond. “It’s our own battery management systems, our own charging systems, all the little gizmos.”
Electrogenic, then, is far from two blokes in a shed making neat-looking electric conversions of old cars. It’s a company while, while it started small with a VW bus conversion, has grown into something far more significant which could have quite a big role to play in Britain’s push for electrification.