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Preparing your business to service electric vehicles

Thursday, December 29, 2016 - 09:00
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Since 1999, hybrid electric vehicle sales (HEVs) in the United States have seen a fairly significant increase in volume. From the initial 17 Honda Insights sold in 1999, sales of HEVs grew to a peak of nearly 500,000 vehicles in 2013.  Since then, sales of HEVs have slumped slightly, but in total there have been more than 4 million HEVs sold in the US. Some shops began adapting to the new technology seen in these vehicles early on, while others chose to simply ignore them all together. In some ways the transition to servicing HEVs was seen as easier because they had both traditional vehicle maintenance needs as well as some new service challenges and maintenance opportunities.

(Image courtesy of Nissan) Nissan Leaf EV
(Image courtesy of BMW) BMW i3 EV

Many people don’t realize that “modern” electric vehicles (EVs) were actually introduced to the US in 1995, even before HEVs. EV model offerings peaked in 1999, right around the time HEVs were introduced, before dropping off fairly quickly. In fact, EVs virtually disappeared from the US market by 2005 before reemerging in 2008. Since then, EV sales have continued to grow rapidly. From 2011 to 2015, the sales volume of EVs increased by over 500 percent while HEV sales increased by less than 45 percent. That increase, along with an aging population of the earlier EV models, is now placing shops in a position to seriously consider gearing up to service EVs. 

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The resurgence of EVs

When looking at national vehicle sales data by fuel type both plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) and EVs are combined into the “EV” category. The resurgence in EV sales mentioned above began in late 2010 because of the introduction of the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt. In 2012, Tesla then introduced the Model S and other manufacturers continued to introduce PHEVs and EVs. In 2016 there were 29 EV/PHEV models available in the US competing with/complimenting the 31 HEV models. 

So why are we seeing this resurgence 10 years after EVs disappeared? It’s likely a combination of improved technology, increased regulations and changes to incentives. The most obvious change in technology is in the batteries.  The increased energy capacity available in modern batteries has allowed more flexible vehicle design, improved vehicle range, and decreased charging time.  Combining those battery improvements with more efficient electric motors and motor controls results in the much higher EV performance we are seeing today.

Number of EV Models Available in the US 1995 - 2016
Number of HEV Models Available in the US 2000 - 2016

The major regulation change that is pushing more PHEVs and EVs into the market is the change to the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requirements. Light duty passenger vehicle CAFE requirements had remained at 27.5 mpg from 1990 – 2010. Beginning with the 2011 model year, however, new requirements went into effect. The current plan is to steadily increase that requirement to 54.5 mpg by 2025. While that number may seem unachievable, it’s actually not as high as it seems at first. The CAFE standard testing is done using a different drive cycle than the one that is used to calculate the fuel economy numbers published on new vehicle window stickers. That difference results in the CAFE requirement number being around 25 percent greater than the number published on vehicle stickers. Even taking that into consideration, the advertised fuel economy will need to average around 40 mpg to meet the 2025 requirements. Those increases are helping drive the technology changes as manufactures strive to produce the vehicles customers want while meeting the new standards. 

To further complicate things, the available incentives for vehicle manufacturers and consumers are continually changing. Those incentives can help decrease the cost of certain technologies. The lower cost tends to increase the number of vehicles with incentivized technology being produced and sold. HEVs are a perfect example of this, as they were fairly heavily incentivized in the earlier years or production. Many of those incentives have since expired, and there are now more incentives available for EVs and PHEVs. In other words, EVs and PHEVs are likely here to stay and will likely continue to climb in numbers at a staggering pace, similar to the early years of the HEVs. Is your shop ready?

CAFE Standards 1978 - 2025

Technology carry over

If you’ve been preparing your shop to work on HEVs, then you’re already at least part way there.  If you haven’t been preparing for HEVs, now would be a great time to start since it will give you a head start on the PHEVs and EVs. In fact, PHEVs have all of the same basic components HEVs have (along with some additional items). The same holds true with EVs with the exception of removing the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) and the supporting components. Any electric drive system, regardless of the designation, will have some common components you should be familiar with. These components are the high-voltage battery, inverter, converter, electric drive motor(s) and controller. 

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