Electric Vehicles: A Game Changer!
Will EVs put repair shops out of business?
By Levy Joffrion
Electric vehicles have been called a game changer.
The Nissan Leaf can go 93 mph, hold five adults, and go 73 miles without being recharged.
Many believe they’re our best hope for lowering oil consumption and dependence on unstable world oil markets.
President Obama’s goal is to put 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.
You see more and more electric vehicles on the road. More and more electric vehicle charging stations are appearing in shopping center parking lots. And more and more manufacturers are offering them.
One selling point of electric vehicles is how little service and repair they need. As one owner says, “Yep, wiper blades and tires, that’s all.”
EV service needs
EVs don’t require oil service and since there is regenerative braking, brake pad wear is greatly reduced. There’s no transmission, so there’s nothing there to service or repair. There are no spark plugs, no air filters, no fuel filters, no starter motor, etc.
What does all this mean to independent repair shops?
Will electric vehicles put repair shops out of business?
For the answer to that question, AutoInc. turned to three industry experts. We also asked them how EVs are impacting shops now, and if that was expected to increase in the future.
We talked to Craig Van Batenburg, AAM, owner of Automotive Career Development Center (ACDC) in Worcester, Mass., and a regular Tech to Tech contributor for AutoInc. We also spoke with Jim Houser, co-owner of Hawthorne Auto Clinic in Portland, Ore., and Phil Fournier, owner, Phil’s Auto Clinic, Hemet, Calif., both of whom are ASA members.
As to whether electric vehicles will put repair shops out of business, Van Batenburg and Fournier agree with Houser, who said it would take a long time for that to happen. “The transition to electric vehicles will be slow,” believes Houser.
EVs’ stake in the future
Even the most optimistic analyses project that by 2020, electric vehicles will only total perhaps 10 to 15 million vehicles out of more than 1 billion vehicles on the planet. In other words, there will still be a lot of gasoline-powered vehicles that will continue to need servicing.
The Tesla Model S, which will hold five adults plus two children, has a top speed of more than 100 mph and can go nearly 240 miles without being recharged.
A point Houser makes, however, is that gasoline-powered cars are lasting longer and requiring less service, maintenance and repair. “Also,” says Houser, “some cities have changed from gasoline-powered vehicles to hybrids for taxicabs, and this has meant less service and repair work for the shops in those cities. So the auto industry is already changing, and electric vehicles will make for still more changes.”
Fournier echoes those thoughts. His shop hosted a class last year in which they tore down a Nissan Leaf, right down to the battery pack on the ground. “What impressed me most about the car is the fact there is virtually nothing to service,” says Fournier. “It does have three cooling systems, and if the electric water pumps are similar to the pumps that fail on Toyota’s Prius, we might have some service work there. But other than tires, there is virtually nothing that looks likely to present service opportunities for us.
“So here’s the brutal truth as I see it: Hybrid and electric cars have very low maintenance costs. There will always be some repairs on anything as complex as an automobile, but as far as being a boon or a threat to us, they are mostly a threat. Not because the technology will be difficult for us (it won’t), but because the maintenance and repair opportunities are negligible.
“We are in big trouble as an industry, in my opinion. Not today and not next year, but eventually the number of repair shops and corresponding number of technicians has got to shrink.
“Most shop owners, especially those with bays that are currently full, don’t agree with me. Most blacksmiths in 1910 thought the automobile was a passing whim that would never impact their business. But it did. A few of them remade themselves into automobile mechanics or shoed horses for farmers. The rest had to find another way to earn a living.
General Motors' Chevy Volt is one of the more popular electric vehicles available.
“I often point out the demise of the spark plug as a maintenance item. Tune-ups used to be a staple of auto technicians. Now a typical vehicle requires no more than one set of spark plugs between factory and junkyard. Serviceable fuel filters are gone. Spark plug wires, caps and rotors no longer exist as service items. Sure, they have been somewhat replaced by failing COP units, but nothing like the number we used to see.
“The world of auto repair is a different place than what it once was. The old days of cars that required service every three months are gone and are not coming back,” Fournier says.
Should a shop owner get ready to work on electric vehicles? “It depends on the shop owner’s view of the future,” says Houser. “He or she may be happy with just continuing to work on gasoline-powered vehicles. If an EV owner comes in for service, just refer them to a shop in town that works on EVs. But if the shop owner is looking to the future and wants to be the shop that people come to with their electric vehicles, he or she should be sure his technicians have the training they need to work on EVs.”
Start training now
Training to work on electric vehicles is offered by a number of individuals, companies and institutions. Van Batenburg offers such training, and instruction is also offered through the Automotive Management Institute, as well as through ASA associate member Automotive Research & Design (AR&D), for starters. The Congress of Automotive Repair and Service (CARS) event will include a hybrid electric vehicle technology class during Automotive Service and Repair Week (ASRW) Oct. 16-18 in Las Vegas. And looking ahead, Fournier is serving on a panel for ASE to develop a hybrid certification test.
Technicians check out a Nissan Leaf as part of an ACDC class on electric vehicles.
Photo courtesy Craig Van Batenburg, ACDC
“The biggest consideration is safety,” says Houser. Electric vehicles have high-voltage (400-volt) batteries and associated components are energized and fully charged, and can be lethal.
If a shop already works on hybrids, “it is 90 percent on its way to working on total electrics,” says Houser.
Van Batenburg agrees with Houser’s assessment of electric vehicles. They’re coming on strong, says Van Batenburg, and changing the game. For example, he says, “Every one of Porche’s vehicles in three or four years will offer a plug-in option.”
The most popular EVs are the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf and Tesla, but there are nearly 50 different EVs already available. And among manufacturers offering EVs are General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Subaru, BMW, Mercedes Benz, Mitsubishi, Renault, Peugot and Volkswagen.
Although Van Batenburg agrees shop owners will be able to do well for quite a few years just working on gasoline-powered vehicles and that it will take two decades for EVs to make a significant change in independent repair shops, he thinks shop owners really should begin preparing themselves now for the future. “It’s really here already,” he said. “You position for the future by being part of it, not playing catch-up.”
There are shops already that specialize in hybrids and electrics. And more and more shops are realizing they need to add hybrid and electric technology to the services they offer.
Continental Motor Works team poses for picture with Nissan Leaf after completing EV class taught by the Automotive Career Development Center.
Photo courtesy Craig Van Batenburg, ACDC
Like any vehicle, EVs will require service and maintenance. EVs will need things like air conditioning work, leaky power steering and replacement of circuit boards. But shops won’t need a lot of equipment they don’t already have to work on EVs.
EVs have been viewed as “city cars,” says Van Batenburg, because of their low speed and not being able to go far without being recharged. But that’s changing, he says. Some EVs can go 75 mph and nearly 300 miles without being recharged. And 30-minute recharging is available.
So the EV revolution has started and eventually will be a big part of the future for independent repair shops. “Don’t wake up one day and be surprised,” says Van Vatenburg. “Recognize that more and more EVs are on the way, and get ready.”
Levy Joffrion is a freelance writer based in Fort Worth, Texas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.