12 Jul 2024
The voice of the independent garage sector

Electric Dreams

The inaugural World EV (Electric Vehicle) Day, held in September, was the first of its kind. Designed to take place as an annual event, the day aimed to encourage the acceleration towards pure-electric motoring. World EV Day was a great opportunity to celebrate how EVs are the cornerstone of the world’s transition to a sustainable energy circular economy – and the movement towards battery power in cars is certainly gathering momentum.
At the heart of the EV industry is the battery. Lithium ion batteries have finally given us a power source which can be used thousands of times in their first lives, then thousands more in their second lives, before being recycled to do it over and over again. Although there are still emissions from mineral extraction and manufacturing, there are no operational emissions. This means that EVs are helping us to breathe cleaner air in our cities and are helping us to live longer and healthier lives.
It’s estimated there are around 1.2 billion vehicles on the road in the world, and in the UK alone there are 38.4 million licensed vehicles on the road. The sooner we switch to electric vehicles and take traditional diesel or petrol cars out of use the better for the health of people and the planet.

Environmental implications
While celebrating the merits of the EV we must also continue to think about how we enable the rest of the new circular economy to ensure we get the most out of both the environmental and economic opportunities created by these new technologies.
The key ingredients in an EV battery, including lithium and cobalt, are hard to mine, and come via a challenging supply chain. Happily, they are not consumed when either storing or releasing energy unlike fossil fuels. However, their performance is slowly degraded, so we must seek to understand this process and maximise performance and utility in their first and second lives, before recycling them for a further generation of uses at peak performance. This creates a circular economy which is about to get dramatically larger and more exciting.

Built on data
Data is fundamental to achieving this. Altelium is working with diverse stakeholders to ensure that data flows to where it is needed to unlock the potential of this new economy, while respecting and protecting the commercial interests of each link in the supply chain. While each stage in the lifecycle helps the planet, it also creates value. Data is the glue that holds it together.     
Altelium collects this data and uses its expertise to turn it into the useful information. This underpins Altelium’s warranty and insurance products which facilitate the finance, confidence and value of all the products and businesses in each part of this circular economy.
In order to use the batteries from EVs in second life application, it is essential to know its state of health (SOH) and the performance history of the individual battery cell. Armed with accurate data from the cells we are able to identify the healthiest ones and use them in new products such as stationary storage.  
Data will also ensure that any cells not fit for second life uses can be processed as part of an efficient recycling system. These systems are being developed by many interested parties worldwide, targeting at least a 95% recovery and reuse of materials. Sharing data will help the motor industry prosper as we develop the energy circular economy.  

Service and repair industry
The garage industry is centred around service and repairs, and the main challenge here is based on the availability of technicians who have the necessary skills and qualifications to work on high voltage systems. The systems found in EVs are very high voltage; as such, it’s a very specialised area of work and there is a shortage of engineers and technicians already.
At the moment, most owners of high value EVs – and most of them are high value at the moment – will return to dealerships for servicing and repairs rather than independent garage or repair shops. Generally speaking, these are likely the only locations in which drivers will find the correctly qualified technicians to handle EV work, certainly in the first ownership of the car and battery; around five years.
The downside to running EV cars with limited service and repair options is the time  drivers can spend waiting for appointments with their original dealership – currently this can  be 3-5 weeks in many cases.
Another crucial point for garages to understand is that the drivetrain in a diesel or petrol vehicle uses thousands of moving parts, whereas the drivetrain in an EV has dramatically fewer, wiping out most of the common reasons drivers visit service and repair centres.
If we look at something that all cars need regardless of power source, such as tyre changes, you might be forgiven for thinking that this is an area in which smaller local garages will keep pace, despite the major EV shifts predicted. But again, even the amount of tyres from EVs will be less. EV drivetrains tend to be so smooth that despite high torque – which usually shreds tyres – EV tyres remain in good condition for longer. EVs are all automatic, but tyre usage is even less than ICE automatic vehicles. It’s not uncommon for an EV with a good set of tyres to last 30% longer than normally expected which will – across all the cars in the UK – further reducing garage bookings. In addition, EVs will also have self-diagnostic systems running which communicate problems as or before they arise. This will further reduce breakdowns and recoveries.

Other developments
Another development currently only running in China is battery exchange systems for EVs, as an alternative to charging. Cars would drive to an automated battery swap centre, knowing from an app that it’s time to change the battery and there’s one available, and a whole new one would be installed in just a few minutes. It will be the ‘EV pit stop’ – but one that requires no human input.
Overall the mechanical systems within EVs are dramatically reduced so what can service and repair centres do now, to survive in five or ten years’ time?
It seems to me that if you’re an owner of a garage and really wanted to see some return on investment for the future, you would start training your staff in high voltage. Already some of the older EV cars are coming to the end of their warranties, with second or third owners buying at lower prices and wanting the extra value of independent garage servicing, and the numbers will only increase. This is especially true of hybrid cars which need both combustion engines and electrical systems servicing.
It might also be worth looking at specialisms, such as battery reconditioning. Another option might be recycling processes for damaged batteries from collisions and crashes that can’t be used but can be recycled – will your garage be a first point for EV battery recycling?
Fundamentally, high voltage training and investment
will almost certainly be needed in garage settings, and a long-term plan put in place – there’s no doubt about it. Now is the time to stop and consider the future of traditional vehicle service centres – and look to future-proof service and repair businesses as we move into the age of the EV.