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The Right Way to Electric Cars

NEW YORK – Excitement about electric cars abounds nowadays, but consider the number of existing gasoline-powered cars: about 850 million. It would take years of new-car sales to make a dent in that number. That fact at first depressed Jiri Räsänen, a civil servant in Helsinki – but then it gave him and his friends a good idea. Why not keep the cars but replace their engines?

That idea would solve a lot of problems, starting not just with today’s installed base of cars, but with the installed base of car makers . Even though many of them are in trouble, it’s probably not the best time to start a new car company, either. Yet while the market for new cars has slowed dramatically, it could be a good time to start a business replacing gasoline engines with electric ones.

The group’s initiative, led by Räsänen, is called eCars - Now! A small operation in Finland, it is less a company than a role model for companies that the team hopes will spring up worldwide.

Borrowing from the open-software movement, Räsänen and his colleagues want to make the idea and the basic designs free, and encourage lots of companies all over the world to implement it locally. Some companies will make batteries or electric engines or retrofit kits; others will retrofit gasoline cars with the new engines – a great job opportunity for unemployed auto workers.