When the industry goes all-electric
The writing’s on the wall for the internal combustion engine. Here’s what the future could look like, through the crystal ball of an EV/hybrid expert.
It is 30 years from now, 2048, and most vehicles are battery-powered electric cars. The fuel cell was tried, but the infrastructure was never built out. So the few fuel-cell cars from the 2020s are sitting behind repair shops, and the owners are still thinking about the cost of a new fuel-cell-membrane rebuild kit.
Hydrogen is expensive, and although you can still buy it, the filling stations are getting harder to find – just like gasoline. Diesels started to go out of favor in the 20-teens when Volkswagen brought attention to how dirty they ran and then switched to all-electric vehicles (EVs) in the 2020s.
Volvo shocked everyone with an announcement that they would cease spending research dollars on the internal combustion engine (ICE). And in 2029, the auto manufacturer became a world leader at building pure EVs in China. Mary Barra stayed on as CEO of GM, until she retired in her late 70s, and guided GM into a world of EVs that made the company No. 1 again in the United States.
GM kept their trucks gas/hybrid for years, but SUVs, sedans and small vehicles went to all-battery power in 2032. Ford stayed with plug-in hybrids longer than anyone and sold close to one million police cars with inductively charged, 100-mile EV range. Some were even high-speed-pursuit editions.
All major cities across America began switching their city vehicles to pure EVs by 2025. Licensing for techs became national law in 2021 when a young tech was electrocuted and died while working on an electric car. The incident was caught on a surveillance camera and shown on social media. Her father was a U.S. senator. The law was passed in 90 days.
In 2034, Ford produced its last F150 that used gasoline, and the Mustang EV had been a rear-drive competitor to Tesla since 2031. The Ford Mustang EV could do zero to 60 mph in 1.8 seconds. Recharge times were no longer an issue, as the 4-to-10 minute wait for a city car that had a 200-mile range, or 600 for a highway car, was acceptable.
The high-voltage battery packs are now leased to the car owners by Exxon-Mobil or some large energy producer that uses intermittent electrical sources such as wind and solar. The packs are repurposed, after their useful life in the car has been exhausted, to store electricity at wind and solar farms.
Body shops have little work to do because traffic accidents are rare. The work is mostly restoration for people yearning for the good-ol’ days when cars ran on gasoline and humans had to drive them.
Self-driving cars are everywhere, and vehicles on the highways are moving along just fine. People in cars can turn off the self-driving mode, but if they’re driving when an accident takes place, their insurance company raises their rates. New drivers are happy with the changes. Uber is doing well. Charging stations are as common as gas stations once were, and solar, wind and hydro are our three most-used sources of electricity.
The Repair Shop in 2048
What a picture! Could it really end up like that? Sure, and we’re well on our way. So let’s look now at what an independent automotive repair shop looks like in that new world. How many technicians will it need? How many bays?
When I opened my shop in 1977, I needed about 1,000 loyal customers driving about 15,000 miles per year to keep one tech busy. I worked on Hondas, and they needed less work in the ’80s and ’90s than most other makes. If my customers were not loyal and went elsewhere for tires, oil changes and such, I needed 2,000 customers per tech to repair the vehicles.
Translate those numbers to 2048, when 90 percent of the cars are battery electric, needing little preventive maintenance, and the car-to-tech ratio climbs to 10,000 cars per tech. The average service time takes 30 minutes, or less, once a year. The first fluid change – antifreeze and gear box fluid – is scheduled for 10 years or 150,000 miles after it was sold. And this will only need to be repeated 10 years later or at 300,000 miles.
Wiper blades, washer solvent, cabin air filter, tire rotation and pressure adjustments rounds it out. The large, expensive components – battery pack, electric drive motor, inverter and power electronics – are more than capable of going 300,000 miles without a major failure.
So the repair shop looks entirely different than it does today. It looks more like the assembly-line-type repair cycle that you see in car washes today. But the challenge of staying in business is huge. You now have to meet that requirement of 10,000 cars per tech, and you can’t make a decent profit if you handle the intake the same way you do today.
Driving a car into a bay, setting the lift, getting the parts and then backing it out takes time. Too much time, if all you get is a 30-minute job and few parts. Picture a slow moving assembly-line shop that moves the cars in one door and out the other. Thus, the process will require pit-stop teamwork.
One of my customers is American Honda Manufacturing, which allows me an up-close look at these plants. The independent shop is not as large, but it can be just as efficient. Once the customer makes an appointment, drives to the shop and exits the car, the car drives on its own to the entrance of the “preventive maintenance (PM) line,” and human beings greet the owners of these cars. Yes, there will be owners, because in America we love to own things.
A report is given to the two PM techs, one on each side of the car as it slowly moves down a conveyor system with its wheels off the ground. But the report doesn’t come from the scan tools used by the techs; it comes from the car itself.
The OBD 16-pin connector was discontinued when market share hit 80 percent EV, and the ICE was banned throughout most of the world. But we do have a built-in wireless data transmitter for those trained to understand it. Inexpensive sensors, attached to all bearing outer surfaces, can now predict “end of life,” while other sensors gather Big Data that is analyzed in the Cloud and compared to similar cars so the tech knows what to look for.
As they gain more experience, technicians will move off the line into the service bays, where tires are still tires, mechanical parts haven’t changed that much and the 12-volt battery lives on. Software downloads are handled on the internet automatically.
If a problem needs attention, the vehicle is driven into a service bay at the end of the conveyor line. Some cars still get towed in, but the amount of work a car needs in 2048 to get to 300,000 miles will be 10 percent of the work being done today. And when you lose 90 percent of the work, to stay in business you need 90 percent more customers, which includes Uber-type vehicles, car-sharing rides and self-driving fleets.
The Service Bay of the Future
Technology has moved forward from today at a rapid pace. An ASE L9 certified EV tech is busy looking at scan data that has been analyzed by a robotic artificial intelligence (AI) bot that dealerships exclusively rely on to repair EVs. But this independent shop, much like those today, still fixes problems that go beyond what a computer can tell a tech.
Other technicians in the shop replace modules, wheel bearings, tires, worn-out battery packs and such. The work is clean – no exhaust fumes and little clutter. It is an ASA shop with all the benefits of training, government relations and more. The shops with the best customer service are busy. Coffee is still served, and the service writer is still a caring soul. The future is bright for those shops that don’t live in the past.