Are Mechanics Ready for Electric Vehicles?

There’s been a lot of Tweets and class discussions regarding Electric Vehicles (EV) this semester. Especially from Olger and Bryan! Makes sense…Bryan does have a Tesla that he offered to let any of us test drive.  

I bet most of you didn’t know that the concept of an electric car dates back to the 1700s when the first self-propelled vehicles relied on steam. While steam provided reliability for factories and trains, it couldn’t compete with the convenience of gasoline-powered cars. Who knew Elon Musk was giving us a history lesson when he said, “you have to match the convenience of the gasoline car in order for people to buy an electric car.”?

EV has made tremendous strides since then. Below are just a few facts and commitments made to set the stage.

Facts & Commitments:

  • Biden Wants 50% of New Cars to Be Electric by 2030
  • Mercedes plans to introduce 10 new EVs through its EQ brand by the end of the 2022
  • Nissan plans to have launched eight EVs by the end of 2023 and hopes to be on pace to sell 1 million hybrid or electric vehicles per year globally.
  • Audi plans to have 30 electrified vehicles by 2025, and 20 of those models will be EVs.
  • BMW said as early as 2017 that it expects sales of hybrid and electric vehicles to account for 15 to 25 percent of its global sales by 2025.
  • Ford says it will invest $29 billion in EVs through 2025.
  • Jaguar plans to be all-electric by 2025.
  • Toyota plans to launch 60 new hybrid, electric, or fuel-cell vehicles by the end of the 2025 and expects to have reached its goal of selling 5.5 million electrified offerings each year.
  • Hyundai vows to have 23 EVs worldwide by 2025.

As you can tell, we are in the midst of a motor vehicle revolution.

Per Deloitte, the sales of EV (battery-electric and plug-in hybrid electric) tipped over the two-million-vehicle mark for the first time in 2019. EVs have maintained a steady, positive trajectory for most of the 2000s, apart from 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the pandemic, sales of EV bounced back considerably in European and Chinese markets.

BEVs are powered solely by batteries. They use an electric motor to turn the wheels and produce zero emissions.
PHEVs are capable of zero-emission driving, typically between 20 and 30 miles, and can run on petrol or diesel for longer trips.
ICEs are internal combustion engine equivalents.

The significant growth of electric cars is largely due to government legislation, carbon taxes, and zero-emission commitments from both governments and corporations. OEMs and renewable energy project sponsors are challenged with building the infrastructure and battery strength to support the transition. Carmakers also must continue to lower the price to better compete with combustion engines or push legislation (carbon taxes) to more accurately portray the cost of combustion. While we could argue if governments and corporations have really promised enough to meet our critical climate problem, I would like to talk about the “little guys” that are so often forgotten in the conversation: Local auto-repair shops.  

Are mechanics ready for electric vehicles?

And the answer is…not really. There are two major problems auto-shops face:

  • Revenue: EVs use an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine. This means there are a lot fewer moving parts. And because there is less moving parts, the cost of maintenance is significantly lower. Say goodbye to oil changes. The biggest reoccurring cost is battery replacements which (c’mon Moore’s Law!) should continue to drop in price.
  • Learning Curve and Equipment Investment: EVs are very different from combustion and batteries can be difficult to repair. Mechanics need specialist training to safely work with high voltages without risking electric shocks. Batteries today are also very heavy, requiring specialized machinery to remove the battery and replace it. More importantly, auto-shops will need diagnostic tools that are run by technology and use things like code reading and laptops to tweak computer settings. Problems that used to require a screwdriver and wrench, will now require an engineer with coding and software skills. 

I want to make it clear that I do not think auto-shops or mechanics are doomed; EVs still need a trained auto-mechanic to fix brakes, windshields, and tires. The difference will be how the problem is addressed. The new approach to repair is to hook the electric car to a main computerized dashboard and let the reports tell you where the problem is.

My recommendation to the local auto-shops:

Get ahead of the curve! Carmakers not only have government pressure but social capital pressure to meet their EV commitments. And even if EV does not disrupt as quickly as anticipated, modern cars will continue to add sophisticated artificial intelligence, machine learning, and sensors to vehicles that will require a technical computer background. While I couldn’t find the percentage of US mechanics qualified to work EVs, I assume it’s somewhat in the ballpark of the UK’s Institute of the Motor Industry number for 2020; Just 3% (some argue 5%) of mechanics are qualified to work EVs. At the end of 2020, there were just over 1.3 million EVs on the road in the US. That’s 1.3 million EV users that are forced to go to the carmaker to get repairs instead of the local auto-shop just today. That’s an industry begging, no, pleading for someone to disrupt. Independent auto-shops have an opportunity to innovate like never before if they choose to invest in EV training, certifications, and machinery. All it takes is a 16-week training program to become certified as an Electric Vehicle Technician (CEVT) as well as investment in EV equipment and software.

The pandemic taught companies the importance of reskilling their employees. Adaptability, digital skills, problem-solving, and risk management are all skills needed to stay relevant. The same goes for the local auto-shops.

Research:

Can the Automotive Industry Adapt Fast Enough for an Electric Future?

Why electric cars will take over sooner than you think

Electric vehicles – Setting the Course for 2030 – Deloitte

Are mechanics ready for electric vehicles?

Here Are All the Promises Automakers Have Made about Electric Cars

Will Electric Cars Make Auto Mechanics Obsolete?

Electric vs. Combustion Engine: What are the Differences?

Rethinking the future of auto repair for self-driving vehicles

Global EV Sales for 2021 H1

Trainings & Certs:

CEVT Training

Electric Vehicle Technology

14 comments

  1. This is a great observation. I had not even stopped to consider how mechanics and other adjacent professions are going to be disrupted by the rise EVs. It’s going to cause some headaches but hopefully it creates opportunities for the early adapters.

  2. I’m definitely a fan of electric vehicles and can’t wait to drive one that has autopilot someday. Living and working around Boston, I haven’t owned a car in years and I hope to keep it that way but the lack of options for repair with an electric vehicle would be a major concern of mine if I was in the market for one. A lack of mechanics would take a considerable amount of control away from the consumer and I hope that everyone with an EV deadline also has plans to retrain mechanics to assist with the shift. From some quick research, it appears a mechanic trained to work on EV vehicles makes a considerable amount more…it would be nice if there were some widespread government-sponsored schools for mechanics to quickly add those skills.

    1. Great point! It makes sense to pay those ahead of the curve more given the lack of trained mechanics. I wonder if this will encourage school to invest in EV Mechanic classes too.

  3. If it only takes 16 weeks to receive certification, then I don’t think anyone will risk capital to get ahead of the EV trend. Most mechanics will wait until they are on the verge of bankruptcy to get certified because as you mentioned it is the government promoting EVs not the free market. Therefore, it will take much longer to coerce the average consumer into transforming automotive demographics and in turn the TAM for EV certified mechanics. I am glad you brought this topic up because I do think it is often overlooked by business leaders and policy makers.

    1. There is obviously more to it than 16 weeks and a large capital upfront investment; That is the start. There’s also getting loans for the capital investment, marketing, and finding the right digital software since there isn’t a standardized version yet.

  4. Bianca, you’re post reminded me the recent “right to repair bill” that passed in 2020.

    According to Wikipedia: The measure extends the state’s right to repair laws to include telematics systems. Telematics systems contain car data that is stored outside the vehicle, and may include information that relates to navigation, gps, and mobile internet. The measure will require cars sold in Massachusetts starting with the model year 2022 to equip any cars having telematics systems with a standardized open access data platform. Independent repair shops and mechanics would, with owner permission, automatically have access to the vehicle’s data to use it for diagnostics and car repair. Currently this data may only be used by manufacturer repair shops unless permission is granted.

    This law passed with a resounding 74.9 approval. Perhaps this is a sign that people want to support their local repair shop or at least shop around.

    1. Very interesting! Thank you for sharing!

  5. Thanks for the shoutout! Sadly, my only electric car is my RC one from when I was a kid. — Love the take on the car repair shops. It seems like there’s a business opportunity here. Since all of these car manufacturers will be utilizing their own diagnostics software, I could see a future where a company builds a platform that’s able to read multiple types of diagnostics issues within each of these cars systems. Instead of requiring more training, you’d just need training on how to use that software that can plug into a Honda, as well as a Toyota, as well as a Nissan, etc.

  6. Bianca, excellent blog! You brought great points about the automotive industry and how most mechanics haven’t adapted to the revolution. The EV revolution is here, and this type of business has the tools to stay ahead of the curve. Although I don’t believe EV will fully replace all the market, mechanics will become like old artists of a lost craft.

  7. I totally agree with Carlos here. Gas-powered vehicles aren’t going away anytime soon. EV will take a small share of the market, and by proportion to market caps, mirror the analogy of a grain of sand on an ant and rock on an elephant. I agree that there should be specialized auto shops now trying to stay ahead of the curve, but as Chris said, the average consumer and auto shop owner is unlikely to make any changes unless it’s necessary.

  8. This was a really helpful blog in framing the almost dire need for EV mechanics! I work at BC and so truth be told, I don’t interact with too many hopeful mechanic or tradespeople, but wish that it was granted as a more valid option in high schools. Too often we see students who feel backed into their 4-year degree by hopeful parents but without any real aspirations of their own for their college career. Several years of debt later, they are still not sure what to do with their career. Hopefully this option becomes more visible as time progresses and manufacturers make good on their promise to produce more vehicles!

    1. That’s a really positive outlook. Thank you for sharing!

  9. No, I don’t think mechanics are ready for EV and I don’t think the US is either. As Chris and Daren mention, it’s going to take awhile before EV becomes mainstream – if it ever does. My question is: what happens next? We have strict disposal rules when it comes to batteries, etc. Where are those going to go? We’ll be creating another environmental crisis: from the ground up.

    Nonetheless, I agree with you that mechanics could get ahead of the curve and start getting up to speed sooner than later. It’s good marketing and may help them serve a niche market, but I don’t think it’s necessary for a mega movement.

    Good post. Thanks!

  10. What a great prospective blog on an topic that is dominating the headlines recently. As other commenters have noted, everyone is pushing electric cars but at the same time ignoring key components of making this EV revolution be a success. Such as understanding the cobalt mining process and training mechanics to service these vehicles.

    I am curious how education will be revamped to address this market change. You mentioned the 16 week course, but I will be looking for how it will be trained in technical schools and the approach the EV industry will take for DIY mechanics who want to be able to fix their own cars in their garage.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: