Hybrid and Electric Vehicles: A Growing Service Opportunity – Are You Ready?
Although still a small percentage of the total parc, the market for hybrid and electric vehicles (H/EV) is growing rapidly. And just like their internal combustion engine powered equivalents, will require timely, efficient servicing and repair. This represents an enormous opportunity for the aftermarket, but critically only for workshops who have invested in the equipment and know-how to work safely on these vehicles. Are you ready?
Driven by government incentives, a wider mix of models and falling battery costs, the market for fully electric and plug-in hybrid cars reached a major milestone in late 2017, passing the three million mark globally. Whilst still a fraction of the total vehicle parc, recent announcements from some of the biggest vehicle manufacturers outlining their plans for electrification could see a major shift, bringing H/EVs to the roads in unprecedented numbers during the next decade. By 2025 alone, the worldwide electrified vehicle fleet is expected to grow to more than 36 million vehicles.
At the same time, early model H/EVs are transitioning out of VM dealer networks into the aftermarket.
The Toyota Prius, for example, is now over two decades old and requires servicing just as any other vehicle from this era would; they still need their brakes and steering serviced, they have a multitude of sensors that fail, and they use the same OBD-II fault codes. Yet, unfortunately many garages continue to shy away from this work, largely because of the additional hazards that come with high voltage vehicles. By understanding the basic dangers, however, and crucially the processes required to overcome them, technicians can work safely and competently on H/EVs.
One obvious challenge, is the high-voltage battery. Containing anything from 201.6 Volts to 351.5 Volts (PHEV), they are significantly higher than conventional 12-volt car batteries. The DC battery pack is just one source though; multiple cables run from the pack to the motor controller, and from the controller to the electric motor, that carry equally dangerous high voltages. Accidental contact with any of these components can be fatal. As well as electrocution, there’s also the risk of serious burns from arc flash or arc blast, and exposure to harmful battery chemicals. In addition, H/EVs contain magnetic forces which may cause the electric motor or vehicle to move – because of these forces anyone fitted with a pacemaker should avoid working on the system.
Whilst this may sound alarming, the risks can be mitigated by always following the correct procedures. For example, technicians must wear the right PPE, including CAT 0 1000V-rated insulated gloves and either insulated boots or matting to protect against electrocution. The vehicle should also be secured in a cordoned off area with appropriate high voltage warning signage. And any keys should be kept away from the vehicle to prevent the accidental operation of electrical systems or movement of the vehicle.
Also, before undertaking even the most routine of jobs, such as replacing the brakes, technicians must first make the car safe. To do so, the high voltage battery should be disconnected by removing the service plug or isolator switch, and again, storing it in a secure location. However, this is not an immediate fix as the high voltage will take some time to dissipate – this can be up to 10 minutes. And even then, the technician should test and prove that the high voltage cables and electrical components are dead prior to carrying out any work on the system.
As a leading OE manufacturer of internal combustion engine, hybrid and electric vehicle technology, we recognise the challenges when it comes to servicing H/EVs. Critically, the 48 volts in our mild-hybrid technology is significantly less voltage than other systems. Working below this safety threshold avoids some, but not all, of the challenges associated with high-voltage systems.
And because we know these vehicles inside-out, we’re able to provide the skills and know-how to work safely on them. Our specially designed two-day, IMI accredited hybrid vehicle training programme teaches the fundamentals such as the need for specialist PPE, component identification, making the system safe, awareness of magnetic components, use of wiring diagrams and technical data and assessing the high voltage system.
Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be able to take advantage of a fast-growing service opportunity, in an area where there’s still a shortfall of specialist skills. Putting garages who invest now in a very strong position.