How independent garages can gear up for electromobility

06. Feb 2019 | Industry + More

Admittedly, electromobility hasn't yet had a major breakthrough in Germany. But the vehicle registration figures indicate something is happening. In 2018 the number of new registrations for electro and hybrid cars was up by over 51 percent compared with the previous year. Independent car repair garages should therefore act now so as not to be overtaken by this trend at some point in the future.

Given the seemingly tiny number of e-cars on German roads, many garages think the situation is fine as far as they are concerned. According to the popular saying: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". As technical changes only ever reach the garages after some delay, above all independent ones, a lot of garage owners don't yet see any need to act.

An increasing number of garages are obtaining certification

But many have already taken action. According to a study by ZDK, the German Federation for Motor Trades and Repairs, garages are having themselves certified as a "Specialist for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles". 41 percent of them, no less. When asked about their reasons for doing so, most say they want to raise the profile of their garage, or for purposes of marketing and customer acquisition (80 percent). Other objectives include the wish to increase sales and levels of customer satisfaction.

Even if a lot of so-called experts paint gloomy scenarios: The sector will probably be spared a major catastrophe. At least if garages truly face up to the challenge of e-mobility.

Less business through electromobility?

Some tasks such as changing engine oil will no longer be required thanks to the simpler technology of electric cars and omission of parts used in combustion engines and the mechanical power train. This means that there will be a significant drop in business, particularly where repairs are concerned. According to a recent study, the overall time for the servicing and repair of electric cars is set to fall by a "mere" 13 or so percent compared with passenger cars with a conventional combustion engine.

Work on electric cars is subject to stringent regulations – and for good cause. After all, it requires specialist technical skills and qualifications. A 'normal' car mechanic isn't even allowed to change a wheel without instruction. This is due to the high-voltage system on e-cars, which is responsible for charging the batteries and the drive system. While a conventional starter battery has a voltage of just 12 V, with electric car batteries this is more than 300 V. Making a mistake when dealing with the high-voltage system of an electric car can be fatal.

Three qualification levels

We distinguish between three qualification levels here:

Level 1:
According to "Electric Mobility Showcase", the electromobility initiative of the German government, a "person instructed in electrical engineering for work on motor vehicles with high-voltage systems" may work on de-energised vehicles (not high-voltage systems). In addition, persons with such training may perform measurement and diagnostics "on energised vehicles without any risk of touching high-voltage parts". The extent of training required here is 0.5 to 2 units of instruction.

Level 2:
An electrician for high-voltage systems in motor vehicles may additionally de-energise electric cars, start up corresponding vehicles. They also perform diagnostics on energised vehicles (not high-voltage systems). The extent of training required here is 48 units of instruction including a practical section.

Level 3:
Expert mechanics can qualify as an electrician specialising in high-voltage systems for motor vehicles by completing seven additional units of instruction and a further practical section. They too will then be permitted to work on high-voltage systems of electric cars.

Besides the qualification necessary for the garage staff, new requirements are also made on the technical equipment of garages. Garage owners must expect to invest at least five-figure sums. According to "Electric Mobility Showcase" they should anticipate one-off investment costs of some 10,000 euros for the basic variant if they are to carry out servicing and repair of electric vehicles. Not only are safety equipment and special tools required here, but also a charging station and possibly a lifting device to replace battery packs.