California Proposing Legislation To Convert Existing Gas Cars To Electric Vehicles

California Senators Josh Newman (D) and Anthony J. Portantino (D), along with the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) have proposed legislation that would encourage individuals to convert their gas cars to electric ones.

By Jennifer Hollohan | Updated

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More news has surfaced regarding California’s push for an electric future. A proposed bill would encourage (and reward) residents willing to convert their gas-powered cars into electric vehicles. But the reality is not as clear-cut as the bill makes it sound. 

California SB-301, entitled “Vehicular air pollution: Zero-Emission Aftermarket Conversion Project,” was introduced in a legislative session on February 2. Its authors are Senators Josh Newman (D) and Anthony J. Portantino (D). And the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) sponsored the bill.

But what … or who … is SEMA? According to Green Car Reports, it is an “automotive aftermarket trade group best known for its massive annual trade show in Las Vegas and for lobbying efforts on behalf of vehicle modifications.” SEMA’s primary mission is to ensure everyone performing vehicle restorations and modifications, and all car lovers in general, have access to the resources they need.

Additionally, the association’s website states, “SEMA keeps close tabs on legislators in Washington, D.C., and also in each state within the United States, so SEMA members and anyone who loves cars and trucks can protest pending legislation that might harm our hobby, as well as endorse legislation that’s good for car lovers.” And it appears that California’s SB301 caught the organization’s attention. That may seem like an unusual bill for the auto association to support.

But in recent years, annual SEMA shows prominently featured electric vehicle conversion success stories. The group believes that modifications to electric vehicles are the future for car lovers. And it also stresses that by converting gas-powered vehicles into EVs, they can preserve classic cars.

So, what makes California SB301 so enticing to SEMA? The answer lies at the heart of the proposed bill. If passed, the bill will authorize the state to give residents $2,000 if they agree to convert their existing gas-powered vehicles. SB301 would also establish a $2 million annual fund specifically for those rebates.

There is a catch, though. Converted electric vehicles need to travel 100 miles at minimum to qualify. It’s a tempting incentive to help address a gap in California’s previous attempts to phase out gas and diesel vehicles. 

The state has already banned the sale of combustion engine vehicles by 2035. And it hopes to have EV sales account for 35 percent of all vehicle sales by 2026. That all sounds like good news, right?

Yes, on the surface, it is encouraging news for electric vehicle proponents. All of California’s previous actions to promote electric vehicles have firm deadlines and solid goals. But SB301 doesn’t quite hit the mark. 

“It’s not unusual for EV conversions to total more than $30,000, not including the cost of the donor vehicle. The cheapest one we’re aware of is the $3,000 DIY Mini Cooper done by YouTuber Rich Benoit, but that took some impressive hacks and plenty of Benoit’s own labor,” per Green Car Reports. And as of 2019, Transition One claimed it could convert electric vehicles for roughly $5,500. 

However, Transition One is a French company and only worked on hatchback vehicles at that point. But even if they could do other cars and trucks for around the same price, California’s proposed refund wouldn’t come close to covering the conversion cost. So, SB301 is asking car owners to shell out thousands of dollars without any viable incentive, which means it may very well be a dud.