Like many Canadians, if you’re not already driving a hybrid or electric vehicle, you’re likely thinking about one for your next vehicle.
Earlier this year, the federal government announced that all new cars and light-duty trucks sold in Canada are to be zero-emission vehicles by 2035. Previously, the all-EV target was 2040.
The International Energy Agency expects EV use to rise to 120 million by 2030 – or, from 0.3 per cent to more than seven per cent of the global car fleet. In Canada, in the first quarter of this year, new zero-emission vehicle registrations – which combines plug-in hybrids and battery electric – represented 4.6 per cent of all cars and trucks sold in this country. This is a 1.1 per cent jump from the same quarter in 2020.
In other words, Canadians are jumping on the EV bandwagon.
It’s fair to say the majority of electric vehicles currently on the road in this country are still under warranty. But what happens when those 125,000-plus vehicles fall out of warranty? Who is going to service them?
Mark Lemay runs Auto Aide Technical Services in Barrie, Ont. According to its website, Auto Aide specializes in providing technical assistance and training to the automotive aftermarket. “We run a diagnostic service for other shops and dealerships,” says Lemay. “Simply put, if a shop has a problem car it can’t figure out, they call us, and we do the troubleshooting for them.” He says business is booming as the demand for trained EV technicians steadily rises.
Lemay points out that it’s not the repair side of the industry that’s the problem. “It’s the diagnostic side of it,” he says. “Technicians are more than capable of fixing the cars, it’s just that they’ve got to first figure out what needs to be fixed.”
Lemay and other industry experts believe if aftermarket independent shops don’t upgrade their training and skill set, they’re going to get left behind.
Scott Eccles who owns Eccles Auto Service in Dundas, Ont., says he’s seen the writing on the wall. “As an independent and a business owner, I see a gap and I see an aftermarket opportunity.” Eccles says he and his team are positioning themselves to be “a maintenance and general service repair shop that can diagnose EVs and replace parts, including high-voltage parts and systems.” To that end, he’s sending one of his technicians to Boston in the new year for an intensive EV/hybrid maintenance training course.
Boris Kobak, who manages Hello Tire in Richmond Hill, says his techs typically receive training from the U.S., through his company’s parts suppliers, most of which are based in the U.S.
“Before COVID-19, they would come up to Canada and we would book classes with them,” he says. Since early 2020, that training has only been available online.
According to Kobak, exposure to EVs among the apprentices he works with is “not what it should be.”
To address that skills gap, a number of EV and hybrid maintenance programs have launched across the country in the past few years. Last year, Quebec launched an EV skills program specifically for mechanics wanting to learn how to service EVs and hybrids.
In B.C., the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) launched its EV Maintenance Training program in 2019. General Motors and Kia are among the program’s partner manufacturers, giving instructors insight into new EV innovations.
“It only makes sense that we follow what the manufacturers are doing,” says associate dean of automotive, Mubasher Faruki.
“This allows us to provide that training for technicians who don’t have access to that kind of thing.”
Centennial College in Ontario offers a hybrid and electric vehicles course. Graduates are able to perform minor repairs and servicing on hybrid vehicles, disconnect and power down hybrid systems and use diagnostic equipment.
Even with the proliferation of various EV-training programs across the country, however, there is still no industry-recognized certification for EV skills acquisition. Faruki says BCIT is part of the Canadian Association of Motor Power Educators, a network promoting training and services to the automotive industry. The association aims to standardize the EV training curriculum at the post-secondary level. But until that happens, there is nothing to signify to the consumer whether a shop’s technicians have substantive EV training.
So, what should consumers know before taking their EV to a shop for servicing?
“Start by asking if the shop has the proper skills to service their vehicle,” advises Kobak. “Because the majority of shops do not.”
“Ask how many EVs they see in a week, in a month,” says Faruki. “Independent shops right now would struggle to prove their technicians have some sort of training or experience working on these kinds of cars.”
“The aftermarket is more than capable of dealing with these cars, that’s not a problem,” says Lemay. “The issue is we need the aftermarket to get trained and up to speed.”