UAE retrofit start-up Fuse puts classic cars on road to a greener future

Dubai-based company, which swaps internal combustion engines for EV motors, will showcase its work at Cop28

A 1991 Volkswagen Beetle retrofitted with an EV engine by UAE start-up Fuse, in Dubai Design District. Photo: Fuse
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Does the journey to a sustainable motoring future have a place for classic cars that until now have depended on the internal combustion engine?

A UAE start-up, Fuse, seems to think so.

With at least six million classic cars still on roads, in garages, museums and locations throughout the world, the Dubai-based company might be on to something.

Fuse, which was founded in 2022, is trying to mitigate that impact by offering services to retrofit EV engines into classic cars.

They are also working on pre-done kits which technicians can install in their own workshops. One of these kits was installed in a 1998 Toyota Hilux to be showcased in Cop28, which begins on Thursday.

“By reusing the current vehicle and just swapping the drivetrain we can save up to 80 per cent of the embedded emissions,” Salman Hussain, chief executive of Fuse, said.

“Therefore, increasing EV adoption while causing minimal damage to the planet.”

How does it work?

The engine is first removed, followed by components of the drivetrain – the system that connects the transmission to the drive axles – to allow all oils to be drained out. The engineers also take this time to scan the interior of the car to begin designing the drivetrain for the EV.

The second step is installing the EV's drive train components. The car also gets cleaned and prepped for the conversion process.

The final step is installing the engine.

But before this happens, the rest of the vehicle is assessed to determine if it needs any additional upgrades to complement the new drivetrain. Factors considered include weight distribution, handling and cornering.

The retrofitted car can then be safely driven daily and, according to Fuse, will probably perform better than with the combustion engine.

How much does it cost?

Swapping engines can be expensive – especially for one-offs. It costs Dh89,000 ($24,200) and above for cars and Dh40,000 upwards for smaller vehicles, such as motorbikes.

Fuse wants to move towards pre-prepared kits that technicians can install in their own workshops, Mr Hussain said. These are intended to sell for about $20,000.

“The reason for that is for scaling up the business. It's easier to grow by just fabricating the kits and not installing,” Mr Hussain said.

“This means that the costs on our side remain lower, enabling us to be price competitive.

“Installing would take more space, more expense, and would raise the cost of conversions.”

What classic car enthusiasts think

The average classic car in the UK emits 563kg of carbon dioxide annually, according to a report from Footman James, a classic and specialist vehicle insurance provider.

However, even that emission statistic might not be enough to convince all classic car enthusiasts to make the move to electric.

Fuse could potentially face an uphill climb from classic car enthusiasts adhering to a strict definition of what exactly constitutes a classic car.

UAE resident, Saeed Alromaithi, 65, a car enthusiast and owner of a 1930 Ford Model A, is against converting classic cars to electric. He believes this would “ruin the car's dynamic and take its soul away”.

Taking a more nuanced view, his son and fellow car enthusiast, Thani Alromaithi, 28, said: “If there are no [longer] other parts available, I would consider doing the conversion to at least preserve the history of the car for as long as possible.”

Fuse is optimistic about the journey ahead.

“Although a lot of classic cars are bought for their powertrains, plenty aren't. Instead, [they're bought] for their looks and show of personality,” said Mr Hussain.

“A lot of people who jump off the classic car ownership boat regularly cite these issues, with parts taking for ever to find and repairs taking even longer.

“EV-ing a classic makes sense in that regard to enjoy ownership while keeping a unique look and preserving heritage.”

Updated: November 28, 2023, 10:11 AM