Preparing for the end of the ICE age

Writing in Aftermarket magazine, Alex Johns describes the role of the garage market in handling electric vehicles and how the sector can best prepare for the day when internal combustion engines (ICE) are outlawed.

As Boris Johnson is set to confirm soon that the government will accelerate a ban on selling new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2040 to 2030, the sooner we switch to electric the better for the health of people and the planet. But with 38.4 million vehicles on the road in the UK alone, this is a huge target within a relatively tight timeframe.

Because, of course, it’s not only the power source of vehicles that will change; it’s the whole automotive sector. In anticipation, the garage industry must now also look ahead to assess changes that will have to take place across the next decade.

The garage sector is centred around service and repairs, and the main challenge here is based on the availability of engineers and service technicians who have the necessary skills and qualifications to work on high voltage systems. The systems found in EVs are very high voltage; as such, it’s a very specialised area of work and there is a shortage of engineers and technicians already.

Currently, most owners of EVs will return to dealerships for servicing and repairs rather than independent garage or repair shops. Generally speaking, these are likely the only locations in which drivers will find the correctly qualified technicians to handle EV work, certainly in the first ownership of the car and battery; around five years.

Additionally, the drivetrain in a diesel or petrol vehicle uses thousands of moving parts, whereas the drivetrain in an EV has dramatically fewer, wiping out most of the other common reasons, drivers might visit service and repair centres. Even the rate of tyre replacement will change as EV drivetrains tend to be so smooth that despite high torque – which usually shreds tyres – EV tyres remain in good condition for longer. EVs will also have self-diagnostic systems running which communicate problems as or before they arise, further reducing breakdowns and recoveries.

Overall, the mechanical systems within EVs are dramatically reduced – so what can service and repair centres do now, to survive in five or ten years’ time?

It seems apparent that if you’re an owner of a service and repair garage and really wanted to see some return on investment for the future, you would start training your staff in high voltage. Already some of the older EV cars are coming to the end of their warranties, with second or third owners buying at lower prices and wanting the extra value of independent garage servicing – and the numbers will only increase. This is especially true of hybrid cars which need both combustion engines and electrical systems servicing.

It might also be worth looking at specialisms, such as battery reconditioning. Or recycling processes for damaged batteries from collisions and crashes that can’t be used but can be recycled – will your garage be a first point for EV battery recycling?

Fundamentally, high voltage training and investment will be needed in garage settings, and a long-term plan put in place. Now is undoubtedly the time to stop and consider the future of traditional vehicle service centres – and look to future-proof service and repair businesses as we move into the age of the EV.

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