This year may be remembered as the year electric vehicles entered the mainstream. EVs and AFVs have consistently seen the largest percentage increases in registrations through H1 of 2019 and there were an overwhelming number of EVs and AFVs on display at the Frankfurt Motor Show.
Given that the motor retail sector has been selling internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles for over a century – Motor Trader itself has been published since 1905 – the introduction of an entirely new engine type presents an array of challenges and questions for dealers, revolving around training for salespeople and technicians, health and safety, additional costs and dealership standards.
Steve Nash, CEO of the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI), said: “We’ve seen 100 years of evolution in the same technology. While the ICE is unrecognisable to what we had 50 years ago, it is still the same technology. A full EV is completely different.”
Nash and his colleagues at IMI have been working, for some time, with government, to implement standards for dealers retailing EVs. These largely cover training, with the IMI looking to ensure that technicians are prepared and indeed appropriately qualified to work on EVs, which represent a significant risk due to their high voltage innards. This training is applicable to the whole industry.
The result of this work is TechSafe. Nash stresses that this means technology safe, not technician safe, as it has a broader range. TechSafe aims to educate anyone who would come into contact with an EV in any way, be that a technician, a dealer or even the general public.
Nash said: “We really can’t have a situation going forward where complex technologies such as EVs are put in the hands of people that don’t have the right skills, simply because, in some cases, there are direct health and safety issues. In others there are direct public safety issues.
“We need to be able to not only allow employers to prove that they’ve invested in the training of their staff that will come into contact with EVs, but that those people have maintained their skills. It is also important for the public to know they have been trained correctly.”
Training for dealership staff is split into levels. “In essence,” said Nash, “It basically means that depending on the level of work you’re likely to be doing, you need to demonstrate your skills either at level two, three or four.
“Level two covers how to make the car safe and be able to work around it. Level three would be how to make a high voltage electric safe and carry out diagnostic work. And then level four is for those who will be working with a live system. That’s master technician level. People can evidence these qualifications and will go on to our professional register.”
The training, however, does not stop there. Given the rate of development in the technology, Nash pointed out that those working with EVs will need to show continuous development in their knowledge to prove they are maintaining their skills.
“Unless they do their CPD, the qualification will be out of date. This is not actually a million miles away from what a commercial electrician would have to do under the same regulations.”
On the topic of electricians, the IMI has been able to establish that electricity at work regulations do apply to EVs. Despite being written well before the vehicles hit the market, they were written in such a way that they can accommodate advancing technology.
“We spoke to the health and safety executive, which is a body that enforces the regulations and it agreed that they apply. The problem was, the executive didn’t really know how to enforce them, because it didn’t know what to look for. If someone went into a garage to investigate an injury, they might not know how or where to start if the injury was EV related. They need to know whether this is just somebody making a mistake, which happens, or has an untrained person been asked to do a job they’re not qualified or properly equipped for. In that case, the employer is liable.”
Despite their continued growth, EVs only make up 1.1% of cars registered in the UK. Therefore, dealers could be forgiven for sweeping the need for EV trained technicians under the rug and resolving to deal with it later. At present, the number of qualified technicians is low.
Nash said: “There are about 180,000 technicians who are on a daily basis working on servicing and repairing cars in the UK, and those are the ones that we and other bodies know about. There are probably around 20,000 that work under the radar. But, of the ones we know about, 4% of them have some kind of recognisable qualification to work on high voltage vehicles, and they are largely in the franchise sector.”
But the IMI does not expect dealers to make the change overnight. Those that do not come into contact with EVs, such as those who do not stock them or operate in areas where demand is thin on the ground, have no need for such qualified staff. However, Nash highlighted that in the goodness of time the majority of maintenance and repair work will be on EVs.
“There are around 31 million ICE cars on the road today. So they’re not going to dry up overnight. But, it’s estimated that somewhere around 2025 we will be selling more EVs than non-electrified vehicles. It won’t be that long before the work from them is quite significant.”
Another factor to consider, given time, is that older EVs will begin to roll onto the radar of independent garages. Nash said: “In the short term, they will probably turn that work away because there is nobody qualified. But when it becomes a bigger proportion of potential customers it will be difficult to turn it away. And the temptation to say, ‘well, how difficult can it be? Let’s give it a go’ might prevail. And theyWhen it comes to those dealers that don’t want to opt-in to the EV revolution, Nash has some sympathy. “I’ve spoken to some people, even some of our members, who’ve said actually I’m just not going to engage in that, I’ll probably retire first. And that’s fair enough. So we’re just here to say that the industry needs standards, you need standards, because you need to know that you’re protecting your people and liabilities.”
In the meantime carmakers have been pushing ahead with their own schemes. The Frankfurt Motor Show this year showed the scale of their ambitions. And it is not just the major players. MG Motor, which has a UK market share of 0.5%, recently announced its EV standards in the build up to the release of the MG ZS EV. These require MG dealers to have at least two trained EV technicians in the workshop, as well as having showroom staff take a brief course to introduce them to EVs in general. Dealerships are also required to install a 7kW wall-mounted charging point in the workshop, as well as a 22kW charge point outside the showroom entrance so that customers can experience and learn more about different charging solutions and their capabilities. These standards are not optional. All MG dealers must adhere to them or they will not receive the new vehicles.
Harvey France, head of aftersales & parts at MG said: “Dealers cannot, for example, join our franchise unless they have two technicians complete the introduction training. MG is really committed to a good split between ICE and EV, and this is how it will handle the change.”
The training is a nationally recognised Electric Vehicle Awareness training course provided to dealership staff and technicians, which gives an introduction to safe working practices, as well as detailing the dangers of working with electric vehicles.
Mark Hallam, network development manager at MG Motor UK, said: “When compiling these standards, we assessed customer expectations to determine exactly what information and training was required for our staff to best suit their needs. MG is looking at the total ownership experience and these new set of standards will give our customers total piece of mind that they will be fully supported by their local MG franchise dealer every step of the way.
“EVs often receive a lot of criticism due to a perceived lack of an adequate charging infrastructure, therefore the available information on charging points within our showrooms is particularly useful to debunk this myth and highlight their benefits. Our forward-thinking dealers are even welcoming drivers of EVs from other brands to charge on site to support the wider uptake of these environmentally friendly vehicles.”
It is not just dealer based technicians that need to familiarise themselves with the maintenance and repair of EVs. There are now a range of courses provided, including those for roadside assistance technicians. Allianz Partners UK recently confirmed the return of its EV training programme, following on from the success of its inaugural 2018 course, launched in partnership with the Institute of Vehicle Recovery (IVR). The course comes with full IVR accreditation for graduates, plus drivers receive a Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) card after completing seven hours of driver training.
Mark Debenham, UK network manager for procurement and network at Allianz Partners UK, said: “A greater number of manufacturers are offering viable EV options to their customers, and, as the SMMT figures confirm, take up by consumers is increasing. Whether it is a hybrid vehicle or full EV that consumers are opting for, it’s important that the industry has the skill sets to support this changing landscape.
“We are thrilled to announce that course attendees will gain IVR accreditation this year, as we continue to build on the value provided by our EV training programme. We have also added the Drivers Certificate of Professional Competence card to this year’s programme, bringing together a range of vital EV, hybrid and PHEV training tools for course attendees to benefit from.”
As some prepare for the impact of EVs, others are less convinced. In a recent Motor Trader webinar, The steps to sale: making your forecourt work for the business bottom line, in association with Close Brothers Motor Finance, panellists were asked about their thoughts on the growth of EVs/AFVS.
Paul Richards of Crompton Way Motors said: “I don’t think there is a revolution for AFVs yet. People are still confused about it in my opinion and there aren’t enough charging points. Over the next five to 10 years it will continue to build. It’s coming, but it’s not here yet.”
Matt Stott of the Professional Car Agent agreed, adding: “People are confused about the ins-and-out of owning an EV. The manufacturers are pushing it, with long warranties on batteries and great finance options. There isn’t going to be a great demand for the older technology that is being traded in, so it will take a while for the new technology to reach the used car market.”
Nash also mentioned the pressure put on dealers by manufacturers. “I think that the pressure on manufacturers to meet CO2 targets is a massive. That was always going to be very tough to do with ICE. There’s actually some peer pressure among the manufacturers to be seen to be adopting EVs and being early to market.” This pressure has led manufacturers to invest large amounts of money in EV development, and even enter into collaborations to aid their EV programmes. This pressure, therefore, is bound to trickle down to the dealers on the ground, as the manufacturers want to see some return on the money they have driven into EVs.
However, Jason Cranswick, Jardine Motors commercial director and chairman of the NFDA EV Division, feels that it is a dealer’s responsibility to be on the “front edge of technology and innovation”.
“It is our expectation, as well as that of our manufacturing partners, that we recruit and train our staff at the forefront of technical skills. In the Nordic countries EVs have already taken a big slice of the market and, I think that there is opportunity to grow healthy business on the back of EVs in the UK.”
Cranswick also spoke on the role of the dealer in helping to inform the public about the reality of living with an EV. “[Dealerships] are an educational base. We have a role to play in helping educate the public about EVs. We will need to talk about the operating costs, how the buyer is going to charge their vehicle and what it will cost in comparison to ICE cars.”
Cranswick highlighted that investment into customer service is important, especially given the changes in customer habits and the increased knowledge of the average buyer.
“It’s not just about EV, but about customer handling and how we manage systems, processes and data. All of these are essential parts of a successful business in the future. I think that it is a very exciting for the motor industry.”
Despite expectations imposed on dealers regarding the uptake of EV, one thing remains constant – a lack of funding. Dealers must invest in their future rather than being pulled into it by manufacturers. France makes clear that MG is happy to help dealers reach standards by giving them time to have their staff trained. But, they must reach that standard under their own power and funds.
For franchised dealers EVs are already here with new expectations from brands and a new educational role to take on for the public. For independents and those in the used market, there is more time as EVs are only beginning to permeate the market. But, inevitably, they will enter the fray as electrically evolved businesses.