There’s no doubt that an onslaught of electric vehicles (EVs) is coming—and it’s coming soon. The proof is in the numbers: There were approximately 880,000 pure-electric vehicles on United States roadways in 2019, compared to just 10,000 in 2011.
Experts expect those numbers will continue to increase, which leaves the question: Who’s going to fix all of these high-tech vehicles?
While automakers are busy rolling out cars with multiple electric motors and dozens of computers, trade schools are still teaching students antiquated skills, such as rebuilding alternators and servicing distributors.
What’s more, the current batch of technicians isn’t paid well enough to be motivated to learn about emerging EV technologies.
The automotive repair industry needs to make some changes to prepare technicians for the electrified future of tomorrow. If practices stay the same, it will be nearly impossible to keep the growing number of EVs on the road.
Why the Number of EVs is Growing
Electric vehicles (EVs) are not a new concept. At the turn of the century, electric automobiles accounted for a third of all vehicles operating in the United States. But the introduction of Henry Ford’s Model T—and the discovery of cheap oil—made EVs all but extinct by 1935.
EVs have, however, seen a resurgence within the last decade for several reasons. First and foremost, government agencies are now willing to acknowledge the existential threat that fossil fuel-dependent vehicles pose to the environment. America’s dependency on crude oil is also recognized as a serious problem.
To promote EVs and address these issues, California Governor Gavin Newsom recently issued an executive order that requires all new passenger vehicles sold in the state to be zero-emissions by 2035. President Joe Biden has also announced his plans to convert the U.S. government’s fleet of vehicles to electric.
Over the years, automakers have responded to shifts in government policymaking and tightening fuel economy standards by making more EVs. General Motors (GM) recently announced it would go all-electric by 2035.
But there’s no need to wait until then—most major automakers (including GM) already offer at least one EV in their lineup. This new generation of EVs offers practical transportation for the everyday driver. Many late-model vehicles have a range of 200 to 350 miles on a single charge. These figures are helping to quell the general public’s fear of a limited driving range.
Charging infrastructure is the final piece of the puzzle. Many critics have pointed to a lack of charging stations as their primary reason for dismissing EVs.
Together, these factors—the government’s push toward electrification, more long-range vehicles, and better infrastructure—are prompting more and more drivers to consider an EV.
Technicians Need a Unique Skillset to Fix EVs From Bumper-To-Bumper
According to the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), there will be 18.7 million EVs operating in the United States by 2030. Automotive professionals will need a unique skillset to keep those vehicles on the road.
For one thing, a substantial amount of safety training and equipment is required to work on EVs. Servicing the high-voltage system without the proper training can result in severe personal injury or death. Anyone working on an EV must also invest in personal protective equipment, including high-voltage gloves.
But the most important asset of all is knowledge. Automotive professionals who work on EVs must be extremely knowledgeable about electronics and computer controls. Unfortunately, many of today’s technicians struggle with even basic concepts (e.g., how to read wiring diagrams) when it comes to electrical diagnostics and repairs.
The cars of tomorrow will require more software updates than mechanical services—and the automotive repair industry needs to shift its focus to prepare technicians.
Why the Auto Industry Needs to Change To Accommodate the Growing Number of EVs
Right now, there are only 1,540 technicians nationwide who hold Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification in hybrids and EVs. That figure alone makes it clear that the automotive repair industry needs to make some changes to support the upcoming wave of electrified vehicles.
One of the primary problems is that trade schools and technical colleges fall behind when it comes to EV training. In part, this is because there aren’t enough instructors who can teach EV-related material.
Because most automotive educators have been in the field for decades, many of them are more comfortable with carburetors than hybrid battery packs. There needs to be more formal EV training available to automotive instructors so they can teach the material to others.
Also, the industry needs to work harder to attract and retain technicians. There has been a technician shortage—fueled primarily by low pay and unpleasant work conditions—that has been ongoing for many years.
If technicians are expected to fix EVs, they need to be paid more, have better working conditions, and receive a lot more training. Otherwise, the automotive repair industry won’t be able to keep up with the growing number of electrified vehicles—and drivers might suddenly find themselves missing their gas-guzzling SUVs.