There are already over 620,000 battery electric, plug-in hybrid or conventional hybrid vehicles on UK roads. This will only rise, with manufacturers set to dramatically increase production of these vehicles over the coming decade. Therefore, it’s surprising many garages have neither the skills or tools to safely service them.
Volvo Cars has just signed a multi-billion-dollar battery deal through to 2025, signalling a strong commitment to electric and hybrid vehicle production. In fact, its battery order is so large, it’s more or less equivalent to the entire global production in 2018. This means by 2025 half of Volvo’s global sales, some 500,000 vehicles, will be fully electric. At the start of this year, Ford announced a $15 billion investment and 40 electrified vehicle models by 2022. BMW Group plans to offer 12 full-electric models by 2025. The list goes on and the point is clear, vehicle manufacturers are investing heavily in hybrid and battery electric vehicle technology and it is time to follow suit.
“The biggest threat to the independent aftermarket is also its greatest opportunity,” explains Adam White, director of Workshop Solutions at Euro Car Parts. “The greatest risk during this period of transition is that independent workshops slip behind, and customers have no option but to service their vehicles at main dealers. While we see some switched-on garages and younger technicians getting involved with hybrid and EV training, we have a significant amount of data showing a serious industry-wide deficiency in hybrid and EV knowledge and skills.”
Many garages do not see the required investment in training or equipment as worthwhile, believing there to be very few of these vehicles on the road. White suggests the numbers tell a different story. Industry predictions suggest a short-sighted approach to the hybrid and EV market may be damaging to workshops in the long term. While optimistic about the aftermarket’s ability to adapt, White cautions workshops to approach the opportunity with the right frame of mind and an awareness of the dangers involved with high-voltage systems.
While the risks of working with hybrid and EV vehicles can be safely mitigated, much like conventional vehicles, safety training is critical. For those wishing to test the waters, he points out that technicians can be taught how to make the vehicle safe, without the more intensive training on servicing the actual high voltage system. This means if a workshop has one or two technicians who can isolate the vehicle, the rest of the team can safely work on other systems like steering and suspension or air conditioning.
“Many workshops are turning away hybrid vehicles, even when the problem is unrelated to the high-voltage system,” explains White. “While this approach may be sustainable now, we’re at the turning point. Even if workshops aren’t willing to completely commit, having a few staff qualified to make the vehicle safe opens other servicing opportunities. Those who start working on hybrid and electric vehicles now will be ahead of the curve, gaining customers, experience and a reputation for the work. It could be a make or break difference in the coming decade.”
White explains the Auto Education Academy, Euro Car Parts dedicated training platform offers several appropriate courses, including GED 13 – an IMI Level 2 Award in Hybrid Electric Vehicle Operation and Maintenance. The course teaches technicians how to maintain and repair hybrid vehicles but not the hybrid or electric powertrain itself. Technicians learn about the dangers of high-voltage systems and the differences between HEV, PHEV, EREV and EV. It also covers the various approaches used by manufacturers to power down the high-voltage system and the safety equipment required.
For those looking to repair and replace hybrid vehicle parts, a more detailed and comprehensive course is required. GED 14 is an IMI Level 3 Award in Hybrid Vehicle System Repair and Replacement, giving technicians the skills and knowledge to effectively service and repair EV and hybrid systems. This course lays the foundation for further advanced training.
Both courses can be booked through Auto Education Academy. It’s free to join, and repairers can log in to their own skills portal to view the content of more than 75 different courses. Users can also assess their strengths and identify weaknesses in nine key areas: petrol engines, diesel engines, engine management and emissions, vehicle electronics, air-conditioning, brakes, powertrain, tyres, steering and suspension, as well as hybrid and electric cars. Results are automatically added to an interactive skills diagram; which technicians can compare with the national average to gauge where they stand.
“Users can see for themselves the serious hybrid and EV knowledge deficiency that exists within the UK,” explains White. “Anyone can go online and complete the skills overview; it’s a great way to understand your personal strengths and weaknesses. It can be a useful tool for managers looking to assess the core competencies of their staff or potential new hires. The data we have suggests knowledge about hybrid and electric vehicles lags far behind other core areas, a growing concern we hope to change.”