Industry unprepared for EVs

The crash repair market needs to dramatically gear up for the growth of electric and hybrid vehicles which will fundamentally change the bodyshop landscape, according to Graham O’Neill, the CEO of ACIS, the market leading distributor to the sector.

The government recently announced the 2040 end of the road deadline for diesel and petrol engines to reduce the health impact of fossil fuel emissions, the catalyst for a demand surge in hybrid and electric vehicles in the next few years.

Graham said, ‘We are now on a game-changing journey which will potentially see a dramatic overhaul of our industry in terms of training need, key-to-key times and ultimately cost. There are inherent safety risks for bodyshop personnel dealing with hybrids and electric vehicles and specialist training such as that provided by the Institute of Motor Industry (IMI) will be important for technicians to avoid the threat of electrocution.’

The IMI has spearheaded a campaign to keep motor technicians safe by adopting the correct repair protocols – for example, how to disconnect the batteries and charge them down before commencing a job.

E-cars can contain circuits running at more than three times the 230 volts found in the domestic mains supply, posing a real risk of electrocution and fire unless properly handled, according to the IMI which is pressing for the need to set up a licensing system for electric car mechanics to ensure they are properly trained.

There are about 180,000 car mechanics in the UK, of whom only 40,000 are on the IMI’s professional register. Their figures suggest there are currently around 45,000 electric cars on the roads and only 1,000 people trained to fix them.

Removing batteries, often protected within an integrated ‘armoured’ casing to shield against vibration and impact, takes time and specialist care. On hybrids, switching off the petrol or diesel engine does not necessarily disengage the electric battery which could present dangers for uninitiated bodyshop technicians.

Likewise, battery removal is imperative before the prime and painting process as they would not respond well to the high levels of heat generated from drying booths.

Graham continued, ‘There are already a number of bodyshops able to repair electric and hybrid vehicles, but we are looking at a major volume increase in numbers over the next few years. Bodyshops need to be ready and have the right training in place. All of these factors could add to the time and the cost of repairs, certainly in the short term as volumes increase in line with the UK being weaned off fossil fuelled vehicles.

‘We are looking at a steep learning curve and a dramatic requirement for up-skilling and this has got to start now – we cannot wait until 2040 and hope for the best.’