Tuesday, 02 March 2021 09:44

Electric Vehicle Repair: No Room for Error

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Vehicle technology has seen some tremendous changes and developments in recent years, including the use of high-strength steels, aluminum and magnesium, along with ADAS systems and all the intricate technology that includes.

And while the industry is still learning how to cope with that, we are on to the next horizon---the fast-growing adoption of electric and electric-hybrid motive technology.


Only a few years ago, car makers were more focused on different fuels, leaner-burning internal combustion engines (ICE) and more exotic transmissions. Today, the trend is toward full and hybrid electric.


In 2021, there are 75 fully-electric vehicles; in 2020, there were 59.


Tesla is the name most people come up with when electric cars are discussed; they command a large share of the market and are top-of-mind in the electric car world. But most every legacy car manufacturer has a dog in the hunt, and new technology brings with it new players, such as Rivian and Lucid.


Driving the growth of this market is the expanding vehicle choice. Ford has an all-electric Mustang now available for order, and an all-electric F-150 truck will soon be here. GM recently announced an EV Hummer.


Another growth-driver is fleet adoption. Startup electric vehicle maker Rivian will produce an entire delivery fleet for Amazon. President Joe Biden plans to replace all 645,000 government-run gas and diesel vehicles with electric vehicles, 35% of those belonging to the U.S. Postal Service.


And EV driving range is getting progressively longer. That, together with exhilarating performance and lower costs, will soon start to change the face of the American fleet.
But who will work on these cars---and how will technicians be trained and educated, especially those at independent mechanical garages and techs at collision repair shops?


On a conventional ICE vehicle, a technician may get away with a slight jolt touching a wrong wire. On a high-voltage EV, touching the wrong wire at the wrong time could...

...have serious consequences.


According to Dirk Fuchs, recently-appointed director of program services for I-CAR, it is one thing for a dealership technician to work on an electric vehicle all in one piece where proper procedures can be followed and all on-board appliances and switches are accessible and working.


It is quite another thing to work on a piece of twisted metal where switches may not be accessible, or may not work, or loose or ripped “hot” wires are exposed.


During the most recent CIC virtual meeting, Fuchs, who has a degree in electrical engineering and has spent considerable time in Europe, explained the European model for training and educating technicians for working on electric vehicles. Autobody News followed up with an additional interview.


To start, there are several social and cultural differences between Europe and the U.S. which foster the dramatic differences in training, how it is delivered and how it is viewed.


Typically, Fuchs explained, the European training model is not really training as such, but more an education. In Europe, they learn more about why the problem manifested and why the vehicle must be repaired in a certain way.


In the U.S., training is solution-based---diagnose a problem and fix it as quickly as possible. In a production shop, time is money.


Another cultural difference is how training/education for a technician is viewed.


In Europe, shop owners don’t think twice about sending a technician off for 12 days of training at some remote location. The cost and production schedule...

...are adjusted to allow for it.


In the U.S., getting a tech to any off-site training is tough and is always an imposition on productivity.


The biggest difference in training/education for technicians working on electric vehicles between the U.S. and Europe is government regulation.


First, there is European regulation ECE R 100. This covers the most basic information concerning electric vehicles, and safety while working on them.


Then, as a second step, every individual country in Europe has its own rules and regulations regarding technician certification for working on electric vehicles. The strongest of these is Germany, with its VDE 1000-10 regulation.


For example, in Germany, to be fully certified to work on electric vehicles could be as much as a 3.5-year process for a technician, including a very specific educational curriculum under the umbrella of an apprenticeship program, culminating in a 12-day high-voltage certification training with end-of-training final exam.


European manufacturers rolling out their training programs under German regulations worldwide will affect collision repair technicians in the U.S.


If you are a shop owner, at this point you are probably saying, “I don’t want to train a guy for two years just to work on electric cars---and I sure don’t need any more government regulation and interference in my business!” Agreed.


The reason all this training and education is mandated by the government is because the government covers medical costs if a technician is hurt on the job.


“When you go to an emergency medical facility in Europe, the first thing they ask is if you are there because of a work-related accident or not," Fuchs explained. "If you are, treatment goes in one direction. If not, treatment takes another direction.”


So, the training/education mandates are at least qualified.


But what about working on electric cars in the U.S.?


“In my new position at I-CAR, our team is working with all car manufacturers to come up with a comprehensive training solution for safely repairing collision-damaged electric cars," Fuchs said. "German carmakers may think U.S. training is way behind Europe, while other manufacturers may consider the U.S. approach adequate.


"At I-CAR, we have one goal: To ensure that every person in the collision repair industry has the information, knowledge and skills required to perform complete, safe and quality repairs for the ultimate benefit of the consumer. This includes EVs.


"We need to all get on the same page because with the new high-voltage electric vehicles, there is no room for error.”


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