Germany is known as the home of the modern car.
As the third largest car producer in the world, Germany is also where the first electric car was created, the use of gasoline as fuel was conceived and the diesel engine was invented. The country’s automobile industry employs more than 800,000 people and is the home of brands like Audi, BMW, Bugatti, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Volkswagen, which have led the industry for years in its different segments.
Despite that, today, Germany's carmakers are struggling to compete with electric technological innovation rivals like Tesla and China's BYD.
Electric vehicles (EV) sales hit 6.6 million in 2021, tripling their market share from two years earlier; meanwhile internal combustion engine cars (ICE) sales have been in permanent decline due to factors including more environmentally conscious consumers, a rise in oil prices and government policies that intend to phase out sales of ICEs.
Today, there are 1.2 billion ICE vehicles on the road. About 75% of the components of these end-of-life vehicles, mainly metal, are recyclable in the European Union, while the remaining 25% is considered waste and generally goes to landfills.
The Org had the opportunity to speak with Edgar Navarro, co-founder of Bavarian Econs, a company that gives a new life to iconic, vintage cars—the vehicles that rewrote the rule book of the industry—in a sustainable way so that they remain functional for the future generations.
Bavarian Econs is not just helping to conserve the legacy of vintage cars; the company is innovating on how to help shift the current fleet toward an electric world. This is the story of two Colombian brothers who are challenging the car industry status quo and giving a future to the cars that marked an era.
Love for cars from the cradle
Navarro was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia. He grew up surrounded by conversations around engines, spending Sundays at the racetrack and having dinner-table discussions about prototypes that had been announced in Frankfurt Motor Show, the most important car showcase in the world.
His father, who owned a multiple-brand car dealer, had always been a huge fan of cars, especially the BMW brand, and made sure that Navarro and his two brothers were fans as well. “I have cars in my DNA. Since I have a memory, cars have been an essential part of my life,” Navarro said.
Navarro’s family loved cars so much that Edgar’s older brother, Nicolas, moved to Germany after high school in the 2000s to realize his childhood dream, which he achieved by working for brands such as Alfa Romeo, BMW and Renault. “Nicolas accomplished our childhood dream of working for all these brands, but we were set to take another path and build our own space in the industry, ” Navarro said.
Electric vehicles and trends
Navarro didn’t follow in his brother's footsteps. He stayed in Colombia, where he made a career for himself in digital and innovation roles. On a business trip in 2019, as the Director of Innovation for KPMG Colombia, Navarro received a bold message from his brother saying, “What if we electrified old BMW cars, like the ones we grew up with?”
The message couldn’t have come at a better time, since Navarro was studying EV trends around the world and wanted some way to seize the opportunity. For that year, the electric industry represented 2.5% of global car sales, doubling its share in two years. “I understood that not only was the future of cars electric, but also that the past needed to be retroactively electrified as well” Navarro said.
The two brothers decided to travel to California, one of the most innovative hubs in transportation electrification, as a starting point. “In California, people live with their cars as they please. And the development of the EV industry has been years ahead from the rest of the world,” Navarro said.
They visited Zero-Labs, Singer Vehicle and Rivian, which all opened their doors to the siblings and served as inspiration for them. “After visiting all these amazing companies, we were clear that we wanted to become the Singer of electrified BMWs,” Navarro recalled.
Prototyping for a loan
As soon as they returned to Germany, they bought a 1975 BMW 2002ti for $12,000 in Frankfurt, and set themselves on a mission of electrifying it. After a couple of months they got their first prototype to be fully functional.
The siblings picked up the BMW 2002ti Series, produced between 1966 and 1977, as their first prototype because it's their favorite car, and it’s one of the most-produced series in the world, with more than 850,000 units.
“The result was good, but not what we expected, since there were substantial differences with the handling compared to the original version [combustion model]. And those who love cars understand that the proper feeling of driving is one of the most important things in a car,” Navarro said.
The brothers needed more capital to take their prototype to the point that the experience of driving was equivalent to the internal combustion engine model. The issue was finding someone in Germany who would lend capital to two Colombian siblings to electrify “old cars.”
“Many told us that we were crazy and it was an impossible task to raise capital in a foreign country, and even more so for a capital intensive project,” Navarro recalled. “But we were totally convinced that we were building on the right path. We were in love and believed in the concept and the potential it had to create a new segment in the electric industry.”
And their thesis proved right. In the beginning of 2020, after giving free rides to several bank branch managers inside their 2002 BMW prototype, a local bank from Frankfurt provided them a credit line of $300,000, which the German government matched with $150,000 in additional debt as part of the COVID-19 business support program.
“At the end it’s about how you show value and potential to the investors. We got our prototype, so they could touch it, feel it, drive it! The other key factor was a great presentation that we of course had,” Navarro said.
The new kids on the block: Welcome 2002te
With the necessary funds, the brothers developed the right partners that allowed the newborn company to develop and upgrade their first prototype to meet the driving sensations and safety regulations the market expected.
The “ti” in the BMW 2002ti series stands for “turismo internazionale,” and is a nomenclature that BMW has used in the past to signify a practical car that was also sporty.
In October 2021, after another two intensive months in the new workshop, the reborn BMW 2002te, “turismo electric,” was ready. The new car was equipped with Tesla’s 120-kilowatt electric motor mounted at the back, which produces 161 horsepower; a 33-kWh BMWie battery with a lifespan distance of more than 200 miles; and an interior redesign that allows it to bring the modern to the classic.
Most importantly, throughout the whole process, the Navarros worked with TÜV (Technical Inspection Association, in English) to get the permission that allows their cars to be driven in Europe, and is a global safety standard in the rest of the world. “We are the only German independent car company, and the second in Europe, that has the TUV certification. Without it, you can’t drive a custom made or modified electric car,” explained Navarro.
As soon as the car touched the streets of Frankfurt, all eyes were on it. “We took the car to a test on the outskirts of the city. All the people took pictures of us, honked at us, stopped us to ask about the car,” Navarro said.
Navarro’s siblings understood that Bavarian Econs were set to connect new generations with old classics. “If you don't want to see the classics [cars] only at museums, this is the way to maintain the legacy alive,” Navarro said.
Immediate success and a bright future
The car started to be featured in different local and international specialized media, including Motorsport, Test Driver, BMW Blog and Motor.es. The new car was also invited to Concorso d´Eleganza Villa d’Este 2022, one of the most important “classics” showcases, as part of the 50th year celebration of the BMW’s 2002ti series.
The orders didn’t take too long to start coming in, and in less than a year Bavarian Econs have already sold more than $1 million in cars to clients around the world, and have a global waiting list from Mexico to Japan. But the Navarro brothers’ ambitions go far beyond becoming a boutique electrified-shop for car collectors.
Parallel to the BMW 2002te prototype, the brothers developed their first EV Kit 1.0, or “Econs in a box,” as Navarro called it. The kit objective is to allow any auto repair shop in the world to become a Bavarian Econs’ certified partner to electrify any classic automobile.
The global automotive repair market is expected to reach $678 billion by 2026, but many mom and pop shops will be wiped out if they don’t transition from combustion to electric in the long run. “With Econs in a box we want to connect the ‘old’ workshops and allow them to be the dealers of the future,” said Navarro.
They have already started tests with two auto repair shops in Germany, and despite the current kit only working for BMW’s 2002 series, they are already working on a more standardized version that will allow the electrification of almost any classic car.
“We are targeting a market of more than 50 years of non-electric cars, so the opportunity is enormous. And if in the process we build a better planet, and help thousands of workshops to avoid becoming obsolete, wunderbar!” Navarro said.