Trade tips: electric vehicle servicing

Please note: a version of this article first appeared in the February 2019 issue of IMI Magazine and was written for a motor trade audience.

In our Dec/Jan issue, James Dillon predicted that “setting up as the local electric vehicle specialist will pay dividends in the long run”.

The experience of Tomsett MOT Centre, in Kent, gives credence to this theory. Owner Dave Tomsett explains: “I keep up with new technologies and getting into EV sounded like a wise move, so I started researching training.

“I did the one-day IMI awareness course, which was excellent, and went on to do level 1 and 2 with Bosch, and level 3 and 4 with Pro-Moto.

“We are one of very few garages to have these qualifications and, because we do trade MOTs as well as retail, we could see there was demand.

“In January 2018, we dedicated a bay to hybrid and electric, lined it out and invested in new equipment. We already had Snap-on diagnostic tools but we purchased a G-scan 2 and other kit such as insulated gloves and workshop signage.

“We did a local press launch highlighting that we were making our plug-in point available as a free resource, and it went down very well.”

Tomsett have a Prius courtesy car stickered-up to advertise that they’re an EV specialist and Dave heaps praise on the new Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Repair Alliance (HEVRA).

“We share information with other repairers and even borrow tools, which saves you buying things you might only use once in a blue moon,” he says.

Peter Melville established HEVRA following a problem with his parents’ plug-in Vauxhall. “I started in independent garages and was working for Snap-on when this issue arose with the Ampera’s air con,” he says. “The nearest franchised dealer was an hour away and several good independents wouldn’t take it.

“In the end, I found a mobile air con specialist who had the kit to work on high voltage. I realised there was a gap in the market – a service to help people find local independent garages covering EV. That was the embryo for what became HEVRA.

“We carefully vet all our members to ensure they have the appropriate qualifications and correct tools. Then, for £25 a month, we provide a technical hotline, a quarterly newsletter and advertise on all the main electric car forums, to let people know there is an alternative to the main dealers.”

Over at Pro-Moto, director Eliot Smith is at the forefront of EV training, having previously been responsible for upskilling Honda’s UK network.

“When we started Pro-Moto about 10 years ago I was on the IMI group putting together EV courses, along with representatives from City & Guilds and the Fire & Rescue Service,” he says.

“We now work with manufacturers including JLR, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Fiat, Toyota and McLaren, as well as independent garages, and we certified about 300 technicians to level 4 last year.

“The principles are the same on all EVs. Electricity is never going to change, the whole universe is built on it, but different manufacturers take different approaches to things like battery management.

“In the early days, we were only doing about 10 courses a year, but we’ve got five courses running concurrently next week. Demand is high.

“We unravel the complexities, give people experience of different platforms, make them aware of the risks and give them the skills to service, maintain and repair if necessary.

“Manufacturers are bringing more EVs to market but as an industry we are failing to explain it to the end user. What’s best for them – a battery car or what type of hybrid? Staff in dealerships need to be educated in these technologies to give them the confidence to explain it to customers.

“Manufacturers know where they are with the internal combustion engine. With electric, they aren’t so sure. What if there was a warranty issue? What are the options for second life batteries? How do they mitigate against these unknowns?

“What manufacturers can do is make sure their technicians have the right skills, tools and parts to service EVs, and the aftermarket must be ready to pick up where franchised dealers leave off.”

Demonstrating the depth of expertise in the repair sector, Neil Kidby, product category manager at Sealey, also did the level 2 and 3 courses with Bosch.

“We are lagging behind Europe in terms of Alternative Fuel Vehicle (AFV) penetration, but these technologies are coming and it will happen quickly,” he says. “Before long you might be powering your house from your Toyota.

“The fact is a lot of technicians are frightened of electric cars. The battery is scary, but if you take that out of the equation it is very much like working on any other car. What you must do is protect yourself and have a sealed environment.

“This isn’t as expensive or such a leap as many think. Hybrid vehicles have been around for 100 years after all. Isolate the battery and follow the manufacturers’ instructions and you will lay the foundations for the continued success of your business.

“The essentials are: an exclusion zone – barriers and signage to stop people wandering in (as a bonus this also advertises that you do this type of work); then there’s the kit – an insulation mat and gloves – and a category III voltmeter.

“There’s also the only item we sell which we hope is never used: a rescue pole. People don’t like to think about it, but you have to. In the worst case scenario, with electrocution there’s a risk that a body could catch fire if it isn’t isolated.

“In terms of sales, we’ve seen an upward trend over the last six months. We currently sell mainly to independent garages but are in negotiations with a major vehicle manufacturer too.”

Back at the coalface, Dave Tomsett concludes: “We cannot earn a living from EV alone yet, but it is growing. Overall, we’ve invested around £7.5k in new tools, training and equipment. Some jobs can be time-consuming but it’s a learning curve.

“We have a new apprentice coming in the summer and he’ll be involved with EVs from day one. That’s vital because we need to attract more skilled youngsters into the industry – working on vehicles like these should be an appealing alternative to the university route.

“Attitudes are changing; the 2040 deadline for petrol and diesel sales will focus minds, range will increase and as battery technology improves it will snowball.”

An important question we’ve not delved into is whether the government should legislate to require anyone working on EVs to have further qualifications. We’ll explore that another day.

Must-see: Mercedes Vision Urbanetic concept gets two million views on YouTube

A short film by Mercedes-Benz about its Vision Urbanetic mobility concept has been viewed over two million times on YouTube.

The 1min 38sec video published last September showcases a self-driving, electrically-powered chassis with switchable bodies.

It can be used as a ride-sharing vehicle with space for up to 12 passengers, or as a goods transporter with space for 10 pallets.

Leaping off the drawing board, a scale version of the car was on display at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Mercedes says it can reduce traffic flows, take the pressure off strained city infrastructures and contribute to an improved quality of urban life.

Most small businesses expect their vehicles to be electric by 2030 and driverless by 2040

55% of small enterprises think their fleets will be fully autonomous within 20 years, with 38% expecting it to happen in half that time, according to new research by the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi light commercial vehicle (LCV) business.

In a survey of 3,257 small businesses in the UK, USA, China, France, Mexico, Australia and Japan, 66% also predicted that their fleets would be fully electric within 20 years, with 50% expecting it to happen in half that time.

35% said they were already using smarter technology in their fleets, with efficiency improvements and cost savings the main motivations.

30% said the key benefit of connectivity would be the ability to communicate with the people they’re delivering to.

“We recognize the importance of smart technology to increase efficiency and continue to work together to develop connected and autonomous vehicles that cater to the needs of business fleets of all shapes and sizes,” said Ashwani Gupta, senior vice president of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi LCV business.

Between now and 2022, the alliance says it will launch 12 new zero-emission vehicles, utilising new common electric vehicle platforms. Over the same period, it plans to introduce up to 40 models with autonomous features, although equipment levels will vary.

Have a gander: can this electric three-wheeler beat congestion in London?

With London now the sixth most gridlocked city in the world, could part of the answer be smaller, three-wheeled, maybe yellow, electric cars?

Any talk of three-wheelers and we immediately think of Del Boy’s Reliant Regal from Only Fools and Horses, or the Sinclair C5, but Electra Meccanica has revisited the concept with its new single-person electric vehicle, the Solo.

After a successful trial production run in Vancouver, manufacturing recently moved to a new, larger factory in Chongqing, China.

Electra Meccanica claims it already has more than 23,000 reservations at its target price of $15,500.

Chief operating officer, Henry Reisner, said: “Having driven the 2019 Solo myself, I’m convinced we have a winning car on our hands. Now we get to the business of delivering them in significant numbers.”

While it’s tempting to make Trotters Independent Traders (TIT) jokes, pollution is a serious matter and you only have to glance around the rush hour jam to see big SUVs with only one person in them.

The Congestion Zone is widely considered unfit for purpose and the London Assembly’s Transport Committee recommends replacing it with road pricing.

Why be part of the problem when, as Electra Meccanica says, you can: “Reduce your gas bill to zero. Eliminate your environmental impact. Turn your commute into the highlight of your day.”?

Ok, that might be overstating things, but with its 17.3 kWh lithium ion battery taking it from 0-60mph in just 8 seconds, this three-wheeler is worth a goosey gander.

UK drops to 7th in Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index

A new report by KPMG shows the UK has dropped two places, to seventh, in its Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index.

While this could be interpreted as a blow to the UK government’s commitment to be at the forefront of driverless technology, KPMG was at pains to emphasize that this was “only due to high-performers Norway and Finland joining the index”.

Countries were assessed on 25 different measures across four pillars – policy & legislation, technology & innovation, infrastructure, and consumer acceptance.

KPMG 2019 Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index image
KPMG 2019 Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index image

As last year, The Netherlands ranked #1, praised for its efforts to run platoons of driverless trucks on major ‘Tulip Corridor’ routes from Amsterdam to Antwerp and Rotterdam to the Ruhr valley. Singapore ranked #2 thanks to its test town for driverless vehicles.

Sarah Owen-Vandersluis, head of public mobility strategy for KPMG in the UK, commented: “The UK has made a lot of inroads with big investments, a committed government and world-leading policy; it has seen many positive announcements regarding both private sector initiatives and local and central government strategies.”

In a separate paper – Mobility 2030: Transforming the mobility landscape – KPMG highlighted three key disruptive forces: 1) Electric vehicles (EVs) and alternative powertrains; 2) Connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs); and 3) On-demand mobility services.

The challenge of London: can driverless cars unblock the world’s sixth most gridlocked city?

Today’s two new statements from the London Assembly – one on the cost of congestion and the other on changes to the licensing guidelines for taxis and minicabs – have highlighted major transport problems in the capital… issues which connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) could potentially help to solve.

Caroline Pidgeon MBE AM, chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee, said: “The revelation that London is the sixth most gridlocked city in the world, behind Moscow, Istanbul, Bogota and Mexico City, will come as no surprise to most road users.
 
“This is a shockingly expensive fact and hugely damaging to our global reputation. Getting millions of Londoners to and from work every day is a massive challenge – but we really have to try harder for the sake of our economy and our environment.
 
“The need to improve London’s public transport capacity is desperate – hence the urgent necessity for Crossrail and for more people to walk and cycle whenever possible.” 

Notably, the Transport Committee’s 65-page 2017 report London Stalling described the current Congestion Charge as “no longer fit for purpose” and recommended that “the Mayor should make plans now to introduce road pricing.”

Transport data firm Inrix has since calculated that the average road user in London lost up to £1,680 last year due to traffic jams.

There’s little doubt that smart highways and connected cars could help to ease congestion, or that electric vehicles would cut the damage from tailpipe emissions.

Admittedly, Adam Millard-Ball’s concern that self-driving cars could exacerbate the problem by cruising to get around paying for parking (as outlined in A dystopian vision of polluted London) would need to be tackled.

As to the government’s proposed new licensing guidelines for taxis and minicabs – which would require cabbies to pass enhanced criminal record checks – Pidgeon said: “Anything that improves the safety of passengers has to be a good thing.
 
“We need to prevent the likes of John Worboys from being able to operate as a legitimate licensed driver again and stop the worrying numbers of sexual assaults in minicabs.
 
“The big miss in the government response to the Department for Transport (DfT) Review is the statutory definition of plying for hire not being resolved. This has long been a major bone of contention and it appears to be too hard to resolve, so they aren’t going to try.”

Under existing regulations, private hire vehicles (PHVs) may only pick up passengers when pre-booked, rather than from a rank or being hailed.

However, the RMT, the union for transport workers, asserts that: “ smartphone apps such as Uber are circumventing the law governing the taxi and minicab industry”.

If the authorities haven’t even got their heads around smartphones yet, they’ve certainly got a lot of thinking to do when it comes to driverless cars, not least the thorny issue of who to save in no-win crash situations.

CASE study: connected, autonomous, something and electric

The motor industry is notoriously fond of an acronym and here’s a new one which might just catch on: CASE.

In this case, C stands for connected, A for autonomous and E for electric, but there’s disagreement about what the S should stand for.

Vehicle manufacturer Daimler goes for connected, autonomous, shared and electric, although if you dig a bit deeper into their website they keep their options open with “shared and services”.

“Each of these has the power to turn our entire industry upside down,” said Dr Dieter Zetsche, chairman of the board of Daimler AG. “But the true revolution is in combining them in a comprehensive, seamless package.”

Over at car parts maker ZF, Andy Whydell, vice president of systems product planning for active and passive safety, goes for connected, autonomous, safe and electric.

For explanations of other vehicle-related terms and acronyms, see our Cars of the Future glossary.

Cars of the past: Sinclair C5 race in Margate

Presenters from Absolute Radio – Andy Bush, Richie Firth, Dave Berry and Matt Dyson – lined-up for The Great British Sinclair C5 Seafront Race in Margate on Tuesday 5 February.

The Isle of Thanet News reported that the legendary 1980s three wheelers were supplied by C5 Alive, a local enthusiasts’ club run by Eddie Green and Neil Brooks, who have restored more than 30 C5s to full working order.

The C5 is a single-seater battery-assisted pedal cycle with a top speed of 20mph, described by inventor Sir Clive Sinclair as “a vehicle, not a car”.

Of 14,000 made, only 5,000 were sold before Sinclair Vehicles went into receivership. The planned follow-ups, the C10 and C15, never made it off the drawing board.

A dystopian vision of polluted London

Recycling company First Mile has released this striking image of how London’s Oxford Street could look if we fail to tackle air pollution.

Two technologies being championed to avoid such a dystopian fate are electric powertrains and route optimisation programmes – both popular concepts in connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) design.

However, new research by Adam Millard-Ball, associate professor of environmental studies at the University of California, suggests that, rather than solving the issue of congestion in city centres, self-driving cars could exacerbate the problem, creating gridlock.

“Parking prices are what get people out of their cars and on to public transit, but autonomous vehicles have no need to park at all,” he said. “They can get around paying for parking by cruising. They will have every incentive to create havoc.”

According to Interesting Engineering, his paper, The Autonomous Vehicle Problem, estimates that just 2,000 self-driving vehicles in the San Francisco area will slow traffic to less than 2mph – a nightmare scenario.

Telematics combined with smart congestion charging could conceivably negate this undesirable impact, but the study is grist to the mill for those advising stricter regulation of driverless cars.

Must-see video: driverless from San Francisco to New York

Self-driving tech company, Pronto.ai, has posted a timelapse video of what is believed to be the longest journey yet for a driverless car, set to poetry by Charles Bukowski.

The vehicle in question, a Toyota Prius kitted out with digital maps and cameras, travelled 3,099 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to George Washington Bridge in New York in October 2018.

According to The News Wheel, Pronto’s Anthony Levandowski – formerly an engineer for Waymo – was in the driver’s seat for the whole trip, but didn’t use the pedals or steering wheel except to stop for fuel and rest.