Plug in to a Growing Market
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Plug in to a Growing Market

It is clear that vehicle powertrains are evolving rapidly away from the pure internal combustion engine, but Neil Pattemore is surprised by the apparent apathy amongst aftermarket workshops when it comes to seizing the opportunities that this is creating. 

Although the current hysteria surrounding diesel engines will eventually subside, it has driven (excuse the pun) a step change in the way that vehicle powertrains are viewed by drivers. This is increasingly leading to new adaptations of existing technologies and the focus on electric vehicles. However, as explained in a previous article, pure electric vehicles are not a simple solution either technically or economically, so although they will form part of a developing mobility solution, there will be other solutions which share the best of both worlds. These solutions have been around for over a decade in increasing numbers and their market share is growing exponentially.

The UK has the second highest proportion of electric and hybrid vehicles in Europe (behind Holland) and the rate of sales of these vehicle types has more than doubled between 2015 and 2016 and is increasing even faster this year. Across the EU, there were well over half a million electric vehicles (EVs) sold in 2016, including many two wheelers. Europe is the world’s second largest market for EVs, behind China, but ahead of the USA. If you look at the various manufacturers, the largest is Renault-Nissan, followed by BYD from China and then Tesla, but both BMW and VAG are important manufacturers.

Just to be clear, what are we talking about when we refer to electric vehicles? These include:

■ Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) are ‘pure’ electric vehicles in that all of their power is derived from mains electricity, supplied to an on-board battery which then drives an electric motor(s).

■ Plug-in Hybrids (PHEVs) are also powered primarily by electricity and can operate in an ‘all- electric’ mode similar to a BEV, but in addition have a small conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) which is used to enhance their performance to extend the available range of the vehicle between charges, or both.

■ Range-extender electric vehicles (REEVs) are primarily powered by a battery-electric motor, but also have a small conventional internal combustion engine and fuel tank. Typically, the engine is used purely to top up the battery to give greater range between electric charges, and does not drive the wheels directly.

■ Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) is also a form of EV as it is powered by an electric motor, although it does not derive its power from mains electricity.

Although there are clearly different interpretations of how electricity can be used to power the vehicle, by definition they all have a battery and need specialist equipment and technical training to provide the service and maintenance requirements. This is now a rapidly expanding sector of the market and under European legislation, these vehicles (as with any new vehicle) can be serviced and repaired from day one in independent workshops.

However, if you consider existing hybrid vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius, they have been on Britain’s roads for well over 10 years – but proportionately, more have remained in main dealers’ workshops than would typically have come into independent workshops after they were three or four years old. Clearly a growing market exists and, under normal conditions, businesses would have taken advantage of this growing potential – so, quite simply, why are independent workshops not attracting these vehicle types?

It is likely to be two key reasons. Firstly, a lack of both confidence and competence in being able to work on electric vehicles, but this is easily rectified with the appropriate equipment and technical training – all of which is now widely available. Secondly, it is marketing the workshop’s capabilities to the drivers of these vehicle types.

Once trained and equipped, there is a third opportunity to include both electric light commercial vehicles and L Category vehicles (powered two wheelers), but increasingly, small electric cars/vans will be type approved in this category (up to 450kg without the battery for passenger vehicles and up to 550kg without the battery for commercial vehicles) so the lines between conventional motorcycles, quadricycles and small cars/vans will become increasingly blurred.

This is a particular opportunity in urban areas, where these smaller vehicles are most applicable, but many opportunities also exist outside of towns and cities as the rural population also understands and utilises the benefits of plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles.

As the development of the various electric hybrid models develops, they remain dependent on an internal combustion engine and this is likely to remain the dominant choice over purely electric, if only because the charging capacity and grid infrastructure cannot handle high volumes of EVs for some time to come. This keeps the driver’s expectations close to the conventional workshop and the ability to service and maintain internal combustion engines.

So an investment in training and equipment, together with a technical accreditation (e.g. from the IMI – vehicle-route) coupled with additional marketing to promote your new services to the drivers of electric vehicles, is needed to ‘plug in’ to this new opportunity and embrace this evolution in vehicle powertrain technology – ensuring that your business is able to compete and grow to match the corresponding changes of the vehicle design.

For further details or specialist aftermarket advice, contact

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