Electric future shock

Here we take look at the many challenges the independent garage sectors faces in an increasingly electric future

Published:  05 October, 2017

The need to adapt to changing vehicle technology is one of the main challenges of our time in the sector. Increasing connectivity and a vastly more complicated conventional vehicle provide a whole raft of obstacles on their own, before you even get to the rise of electric vehicles and hybrids.

Add to that a more uncertain legislative environment resulting from rules not quite keeping up with the technology coming in, and you’ve got yourself a whole host of issues that the entire industry needs to stay on top of if it is going to continue to offer a sterling service to customers.

Let’s look at electric vehicles. For Tom Harrison Lord from Fox Agency, the b2b marketing company specialising in the automotive sector,  Automechanika Birmingham offered a troubling glimpse into the future:  “This summer’s Automechanika Birmingham was entertaining and enjoyable as ever, but it also exemplified a worrying trend in the motor industry today. With the advancement of electric vehicles, there are going to be some rapid and stark changes ahead. The automotive aftermarket, however, seems to be burying its head in the sand.”

The key, as it has been in the past, is access. In this case, the right to be able to repair vehicles. Think that’s all sorted? Perhaps not:  “The rise of the electric cars and vehicles is something that could hit the automotive aftermarket hard – in particular, independent garages.

“Many, if not all, electric vehicles invalidate their manufacturer warranty if essential work is carried out on the electrical systems by someone other than the main dealer. What’s more, many cars with batteries, such as the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, have warranties on the electrical components lasting up to ten years.

“Having no choice but to use the main dealer for a full decade shows just why independent workshops will have fewer vehicles coming through the doors in the years ahead.”

So, what needs to happen next?

“The whole market needs to move with the times,” thinks Tom: “Adapt. Evolve. Diversify. As new challenges arise, so will new business opportunities – and with planning and preparation, there will be plenty around the expected increase in hybrid and electric car and van sales.

“The first step would be push through a new Block Exemption Regulation . Obviously, this happened before in the automotive industry. BERs can help provide security for independent garages and specialists, keep repair costs down, and ensure that motorists don't have to wait too long or travel too far for servicing or repairs. It makes sense for drivers, the aftermarket, and independent garages alike.

“This also brings the opportunity for a massive increase of mechanic and technician training courses and specialist garages. ‘Approved BMW i Experts’ anyone?  Third party brands could produce electric motors, CVT gearboxes and batteries too.”

Tom believes some in the sector have yet to realise the opportunity: “Back at Automechanika, there still seemed to be an air of resistance. Surely, now is not the time to put shields up and act as if the changing nature of the market isn’t happening. The scope is there for some opportunistic businesses to steal the electric and hybrid march. To specialise. To offer the required aftermarket parts and accessories. Then aggressively market their expertise.

“At the event, there was a distinct lack of electric vehicles on display, but this goes against what the manufacturers are doing in their R&D departments and their factories. Do a little research on this, and we can see that they all are busy refining the technology for future models.

“When we are in times of tremendous industry change, there can be trepidation from consumers. But they need reassuring; they need to know that garage team members are professionally trained to look
after their vehicle and fit the optimum parts.”

The evidence is out on the street, literally, says Tom: “For the garage owners and technicians who believe electric cars will never happen in large numbers, let’s consider hybrids. Try and find an Uber driver in the capital that isn’t driving a Toyota Prius – it’s not easy. In fact, they top the list for private hire vehicles with over 12,000 of them registered in Greater London last year. Using regenerative braking to reduce wear on brake pads and discs, plus a CVT gearbox with fewer moving parts means higher mechanical reliability. There are reports of some drivers receiving over 400,000 mostly trouble-free miles.
“Mild hybrids could also begin to take over from diesel cars due to the negative perception diesel has, and the possible future legislation against the fuel.”

Tom adds: “All of this means that it’s time to sit up and take notice. The aftermarket needs to look closely at these trends and adapt. An electrified future in the automotive business is happening now, so the independent garage sector and the aftermarket should begin preparing for it. It’s the first step to making your business futureproof.”

Related Articles

  • technologies of electric and hybrid vehicles 

    Having recently presented short seminars about electric vehicle technology at Top Tech Live, and at some other trade events, it has become clear that technicians are only slowly beginning to delve into the
    world of electric and hybrid vehicle technologies.   

  • Launch UK introduces new X431 Euro Tab 

    Launch UK, has introduced its latest addition to the X-431 range of diagnostic tools, the X-431 Euro Tab. Based on the latest Android technology and Launch vehicle software, the X-431 Euro Tab harnesses Launch’s diagnostic technology, including wide vehicle manufacturer coverage, test functions, dealer level special functions and live data with accurate comparative values. The in-built hi-res camera enables identification of the vehicle model by photographing the licence plate and VIN number, with automatic VIN recognition for most makes and models. It is supplied with a two-year warranty, two-years’ subscription and printer.

  • technologies of electric and hybrid vehicles  

    In the previous two issues, we looked at the way batteries store energy. We could in fact compare a battery to a conventional fuel tank because the battery and the tank both store energy; but one big difference between a fuel tank and a battery is the process of storing the energy. Petrol and diesel fuel are pumped into the tank in liquid/chemical form and then stored in the same form. Meanwhile, a battery is charged using electrical energy that then has to be converted (within the battery) into a chemical form so that the energy can be stored.

    One of the big problems for many potential owners of pure electric vehicles is the relatively slow process of
    re-charging the batteries compared to the short time that it takes to re-fill a petrol or diesel fuel tank. If the battery is getting low on energy, the driver then has to find somewhere to re-charge the batteries, and this leads to what is now being termed ‘range anxiety’ for drivers.

    Whilst some vehicle owners might only travel short distances and then have the facility to re-charge batteries at home, not all drivers have convenient driveways and charging facilities. Therefore, batteries will have to be re-charged at remote charging points such as at fuel stations or motorway services; and this is especially true on longer journeys. The obvious solution is a hybrid vehicle where a petrol or diesel engine drives a generator to charge the batteries and power the electric motor, and for most hybrids the engine can also directly propel the vehicle. However, much of the driving will then still rely on using the internal combustion engine that uses fossil fuels and produces unwanted emissions. The pure electric vehicle therefore remains one long term solution for significantly reducing the use of fossil fuels and unwanted emission, but this then requires achieving more acceptable battery re-charging times.

    Charging process and fast charging
    Compared with just a few years ago, charging times have reduced considerably, but there are still some situations where fully re-charging a completely discharged electric vehicle battery pack can in take as long as 20 hours.  It is still not uncommon for re-charging using home based chargers or some remote chargers to take up to 10 hours or more.

    Although there are a few problems that slow down charging times, one critical problem is the heat that is created during charging, which is a problem more associated with the lithium type batteries used in nearly all modern pure electric vehicles (as well as in laptops, mobile phones and some modern aircraft). If too much electricity (too much current) is fed into the batteries too quickly during charging, it can cause the battery cells to overheat and even start fires. Although cooling systems (often liquid cooling systems) are used to help prevent overheating, it is essential to carefully control the charging current (or charging rate) using sophisticated charging control systems that form part of the vehicle’s ‘power electronics systems.’

    Importantly, the overheating problem does in fact become more critical as battery gets closer to being fully charged, so it is in fact possible to provide a relatively high current-fast charge in the earlier stages of charging; but this fast charging must then be slowed down quite considerably when the battery charge reaches around 70% or 80% of full charge. You will therefore see charging times quoted by vehicle manufacturers that typically indicate the time to charge to 80% rather than the time to fully charge. In fact, with careful charging control, many modern battery packs can achieve an 80% charge within 30 minutes or less; but to charge the remaining 20% can then take another 30 minutes or even longer.   

    Battery modules
    Many EV battery packs are constructed using a number of individual batteries that are referred to as battery modules because they actually contain their own individual electronic control systems. Each battery module can then typically contain in the region of four to 12 individual cells.  One example is the first generation Nissan Leaf battery pack that contained 48 battery modules that each contained four cells, thus totalling 192 cells; although at the other extreme, the Tesla Model S used a different arrangement where more the 7,000 individual small cells (roughly the size of AA batteries) where used to form a complete battery pack.

    The charging control systems can use what is effectively a master controller to provide overall charging control. In many cases  the electronics contained in each battery module then provides additional localised control. The localised control systems can make use of temperature sensors that monitor the temperature of the cells contained in each battery module. This then allows the localised controller to restrict the charging rate to the individual cells to prevent overheating. Additionally, the localised controller can also regulate the charging so that the voltages of all the cells in a battery module are the same or balanced.

    One other problem that affect battery charging times is the fact that a battery supplies and has to be charged with direct current (DC) whereas most charging stations (such as home based chargers and many of the remote charging stations) provide an alternating current (AC). Therefore the vehicle’s power electronics system contains a AC to DC converter that handles all of the charging current. However, passing high currents through the AC to DC converter also creates a lot of heat, and therefore liquid cooling systems are again used to reduce temperatures of the power electronics. Even with efficient cooling systems, rapid charging using very high charging currents would require more costly AC to DC converters; therefore, the on-board AC to DC converter can in fact be the limiting factor in how quickly a battery pack can be re-charged. Some models of electric vehicle are actually offered with options of charging control systems: a standard charging control system which provides relatively slow charging or an alternative higher cost system that can handle higher currents and provide more rapid charging.

    Home & Away
    One factor to consider with home based chargers is that a low cost charger could connect directly to the household 13-amp circuit, which would provide relatively slow charging of maybe 10 hours for a battery pack. However, higher power chargers are also available that connect to the 30-amp household circuits (in the same way as some cookers and some other appliances); and assuming that the vehicle’s AC to DC converter will allow higher currents, then the charging time could be reduced to maybe 4 hours operate (but note that all the quoted times will vary with different chargers and different vehicles).

    Finally, there are high powered chargers (often referred to as super-chargers) that are usually located at motorway services or other locations. These super-chargers all provide much higher charging currents to provide fast-charging (as long as the vehicle electronics and battery pack accept the high currents); but in a lot of cases, these super-chargers contain their own AC to DC converter, which allows direct current to be supplied to the vehicle charging port. In effect, the vehicle’s on-board AC to DC charger is by-passed during charging thus eliminating the overheating problem and the high current DC is then fed directly to the battery via the charging control system.

    In reality, the potential for re-charging a battery pack to 80% of its full charge in 30 minutes or less usually relies on using one of the super-chargers, but battery technology and charging systems are improving constantly, so we
    will without doubt see improving charges times for
    newer vehicles.  

  • “The future is electric” - IMI submits final evidence on technician licencing for Bill 

    The Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) has submitted its closing evidence for Parliament’s consideration regarding a Licence to Practice for vehicle technicians working on the high-voltage systems of electric and hybrid vehicles.

  • SO FAR... so good 

    You may have read about some of the challenges that the aftermarket has faced over the last year or two as part of the vehicle Type Approval revisions – with their inherent ‘rights of access to repair and maintenance information’ and the associated fight to maintain access to the vehicle data via the ever-so-not-so-humble 16 pin OBD connector.

    The draft vehicle Type Approval document has been agreed by the European Commission and the Council (Member States), but has now to be approved by the European Parliament before becoming the final version which in turn, will become new legislation. However, as many of the key aftermarket amendments were tabled by the Parliament, it seems unlikely that these will be changed, but there is always an uncertainty until the final plenary vote is done.
    So once agreed, that will be that, as they say. Unfortunately not, as the devil is in the detail.

    Legal reference
    Firstly, there is the additional problem of existing Block Exemption and Euro 5 Regulations which do not provide the critical legal reference to enable access to in-vehicle data beyond just emissions. The standardisation requirements are included, but not the data and information for the wider diagnostic, repair and maintenance data. This means that vehicle manufacturers can claim that access to the vehicle and the corresponding ‘wider data’ does not have to be provided. This is currently being challenged by the Aftermarket Associations in Brussels, but no solution has yet been agreed for those contentious claims and there will be many vehicles on the roads with restricted access before a workable solution can be agreed and implemented.

    As vehicle manufacturers are likely to be in contradiction with these existing Type Approval requirements, it is also likely that they will have to provide access, but this may well be through the use of electronic certificates. As each vehicle manufacturer has their own certificate strategy (process, access criteria, data available etc.), this is still a significant problem and in some cases could mean multiple certificates are needed to work on the different vehicle systems on specific models. It is also important that certificates can be used without the necessity of having to use the vehicle manufacturer’s dedicated diagnostic tool and an online connection to their server to generate the required certificate when using the 16 pin connector.

    However, the new vehicle Type Approval legislation should now provide the legal reference for the physical connector and critically, also contain a reference to the data needed for diagnostics, OBD, repair and maintenance, but beyond these important requirements there are still other elements which have yet to be discussed or agreed.

    Logical cascade     
    These other issues revolve around the secure access for independent operators, together with the exact data that will be made available once access has been granted. This may sound strange, but the 16 pin OBD port is increasingly seen as a high security risk access point into the in-vehicle networks. Consequently, some form of controlled access is highly likely to be implemented, even for such seemingly mundane tasks as checking safety system trouble codes when conducting an MOT test. This is also likely to be a ‘certificate based’ system and this introduces a whole range of new challenges!

    To understand these various issues more clearly, there is a logical cascade which starts with the legal requirement for a connector to be fitted to a vehicle. This is covered as part of vehicle Type Approval legislation, and this legislation also includes the need for the connector to be standardised from both the aspect of the physical shape and connector pin layout, but also what data or information is needed for emission systems, as well as the communication protocols that must be used. All these legislative elements have been in place for more than two decades, but the wider use of the 16 pin connector for diagnostic, repair and maintenance requirements had until the current revision of the vehicle Type Approval legislation, not been legally referenced. Now that this has (hopefully) been addressed, the next key discussions will be about who can access the vehicle via this connector, how this can be authenticated and once access is provided, what data, information and functions will be supported.

    As mentioned earlier, this is likely to require electronic certificates, but to avoid the ‘wild west’ of different processes, access conditions and data availability, a standardised process should be considered by the legislator which also uses a single and independent point of access for certificates from all vehicle manufacturers. It should also be possible to access in-vehicle data without a certificate when the vehicle is in the workshop, although software updates may require certificates. When the vehicle is being driven, ‘read-only’ data should still be available and a certificate should only be needed if some form of ‘functional’ testing is required, but this should be considered as the exception. As there is an increasing use of ‘plug-in’ devices being used to allow remote communication with the vehicle when it is being driven for services such as insurance, or remote monitoring for prognostics and predictive maintenance, arguably, the importance of the OBD connector is increasing for these telematics services – even if the data it can provide is restricted in relation to what is available via the vehicle manufacturers’ embedded
    telematics systems.

    Further requirements
    Once data is accessed, the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which comes into force in May this year, will impose further requirements for the use and handling of personal data.  A fundamental issue will be that much of the data contained in the vehicle can also be considered personal data and is subject to data protection legislation. Critically, the customer must give their consent to the use of this data by a positive action or statement – it cannot be assumed.    

    As you can see, it may be ‘so far, so good’, but the simple task of continuing to plug into the 16 pin connector and diagnosing or repairing the vehicle is going to be far from simple, with many hurdles and challenges yet to be addressed, but the aftermarket associations, both in the UK and with their pan-European partners, are continuing to fight for the ability to do so.


Most read content


Sign Up

For the latest news and updates from Aftermarket Magazine.


Where should the next Automechanika show be held?


Click here to submit an event


©DFA Media 1999-2016