Grenfell garage saved from closure by electric car deal

3 December 2019, 21:18 | Updated: 3 December 2019, 23:10

A garage that sits just beneath the Grenfell Tower has been saved from imminent closure, after becoming the first UK company to convert old Volkswagen cars into electric ones.

Jack's Garage in Kensington, west London, suffered big losses after the fatal fire in June 2017.

The owner Joseph Salama, who has run the business since 2007, said the company nearly went under a couple of times.

He added: "The first year after the fire was diabolical to say the least. In the first few weeks the roads were closed, clients couldn't get in, we weren't getting paid and suppliers couldn't deliver parts.

"Effectively our production, our restoration ceased overnight.

"Over the next six months our turnover was down almost £100,000 when compared to same period the year before. I had to more than half my workforce and some months I wasn't getting paid.

"You have to remember that the Grenfell Tower was left uncovered like a burnt corpse. It was traumatising to look at so people who had a choice to come into the area, they chose not to.

"More times that I care to remember I had female clients in tears as they glanced up at the tower when they went to leave.

"I would have to console them with a cup of tea as they were so upset."

But Mr Salama's independent garage has been offered a lifeline from one of the world's leading carmakers.

Volkswagen (VW) has teamed up with specialist German firm eClassics to provide a conversion kit that will transform the iconic old Beetle model into a new-age electric car.

eClassics has chosen Jack's Garage to be the first UK company to supply the market.

Customers will be able to place orders for the conversions from spring next year.

Mr Salama told Sky News: "This is a game-changer for us. I still can't believe it.

"We are going to be the first garage in the UK to convert cars to electric using VW parts.

"This means I can say with confidence that we will still have jobs in 10, 20 years.

"My prayers have been answered and it means I won't have to close the business.

"I have already had inquiries from America, Europe and the UK."

While the technology will first be used to convert vintage Beetles, the plan is to extend conversion to the VW Bus and also some Porsche models.

eClassics sales director Gianfranco Pizzuto, who brokered the VW deal, said: "We met Joseph at the Frankfurt car show in September and he told us how he specialises in restoring old VW models and was passionate about electric conversions.

"He had a feeling that he had to move towards zero emission concepts.

"He has quite a character, has a good reputation in London and brings so much spirit and enthusiasm."

He added: "In the next 10 years we believe a lot of people will want to continue to drive old cars but they don't want to pollute anymore. By converting cars to become electric, with the latest modern technology, fast charge capability and longer range, it gives those cars a second, extended life and a clean life.

"But an electric conversion doesn't come cheap. The estimated cost of transforming an old VW Beetle is £40,000 and it could take some time before that cost is brought down."