As the UK starts to face the electric car revolution, is the independent motor trade ready for the impact?
For the last 150 years, the world has been perfecting the internal combustion engine vehicle. Even with the evolution of the catalytic converter launched in production in the U.S. in 1975, the demand for ever cleaner emissions has forced the motor industry to produce hybrids and now fully electric cars.
Whilst there is no doubt that, the likes of Tesla’s Model 3 is pushing convention with it’s long range battery version giving figures of 310 miles on 1 charge, it’s clear that all manufacturers will be producing fully electric vehicles within the next few years. This competition will advance the technology as car manufacturers try to compete in the future car market. Even with Mercedes announcing their plans for next years launch of the new Sprinter to include a fully electric version, it’s clear that the motor trade and in particular, mechanics, will need to make sure they are trained to work on High Voltage Vehicles.
Numbers of EV sales are rising dramatically
According to the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI), By September 2015 there were 45,000 plug in electric cars registered in the UK. This number excludes hybrid cars which are also growing in number.
According to www.nextgreencar.com, there were approximately 108,000 plugin cars registered in the UK by August 2017 and 4,500 plug in vans. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) have released figures showing a 51% increase in pure electric vehicle sales in 2017.
Yet in 2016, there were just 1000 technicians in the UK who are qualified to work on these vehicles. This is less than 1% of the total ‘mechanic’ workforce. These all worked for the vehicle manufacturers.
They also estimated that by 2018 only 1000 more technicians, will qualify.
There are some in the motor trade who may think the ban on diesel vehicles by 2040 is a long way off, but the statistics show that people are already starting to consider a shift to electric and hybrid vehicles. As car manufacturers strive to gain headway within the EV market, independent car dealerships and garages that offer servicing and repairs to vehicles will start to feel a squeeze if they can’t correctly repair EVs.
What are the risks of working on electric vehicles?
There’s always been a risk with working on any type of automated vehicle but untrained mechanics working on the new types of battery powering these fully electric vehicles could be risking death to either themselves or their customers if work is not carried out correctly.
Alan Hicks, a consumer quality controller at BMW’s plant in Farnborough, has been working on cars since he left school in 1983 and on electric cars since 2009.
“There’s quite a big difference with electric vehicles. The primary concerns are safety because all of the vehicles run on 360 and 400 volts DC. If you touch that, you’ll pretty much be dead instantly. With a conventional car, you’re not very often opening yourself up to such serious things.”
Mr Hicks added that “for those with the proper training the risks are negligible”.
Regulatory licensing is needed
The IMI is campaigning for a licence to practise for technicians working on hybrid & electric vehicles in the UK. The regulation of a licence will benefit the industry in 3 ways.
- With the sales of electric vehicles and hybrids increasing, regulation will ensure that there are enough trained technicians qualified to cover the demand.
- Having regulated trained staff will mean that safety to those technicians and the customers is increased and the risk of cars catching fire with incorrect repairs will be reduced dramatically.
- With the car market changing to electric in the next 2 decades, we will be bringing on a workforce that is adequately trained for the future. This could potentially see the UK as a leading force with the necessary skills required to bring more production of cars to the UK. Obviously this would boost the economy increasing jemployment potential for production plants.
Steve Nash, chief executive of the IMI, said there was “a pressing need to set up a licensing system for electric car mechanics to ensure they were properly trained.”
“Sooner or later somebody is going to attempt to do something they shouldn’t do and they are going to fry themselves. That will either be the person working on it who gets a 600 or 700-volt shock or it might be a member of the public exposed to a fire risk.”
The benefits of training electric vehicle technicians now.
Steve Nash outlined the crux of the situation;
“As the volumes of these new vehicles grow there are thousands of other technicians that will be challenged to offer that kind of service and without some sort of license requiring them to be properly trained and qualified, independent garages that make up 85% of the businesses operating in the service & repair sector will not invest in that kind of training. That means that their staff will either risk their lives working on unfamiliar systems that carry lethally high voltages, or they will simply refer everything back to the franchised dealers, reducing competition in the sector. I cannot imagine that either of those outcomes is likely to be palatable for the government.”
For those independent dealerships offering after-sales servicing and repair, the advantages of having trained EV technicians on the payroll would be obvious. The dealership can start to build a future-proof reputation within their locality, attracting more trade whilst other garages who fall behind start to lose business. There is still a massive gap for getting ahead of competitors by being proactive towards the electric revolution.
It’s a fact that the motor trade is changing. Are your mechanics ready for the change?
As Motor Trade Insurance specialists, Quote Me Today are yet to hear of the proposed regulations changing the way we insure those in the motor trade. Should the license become a requirement of servicing EVs, then there may be insurance implications associated with unqualified mechanics working on high voltage vehicles.