Electrification of the vehicle fleet is happening. Here’s what experts see for the years ahead and how you can be prepared
The number of electric vehicles available to consumers is set to explode. Will the automotive aftermarket be ready?
When speaking privately and publicly to aftermarket professionals, their opinions scatter the spectrum. Many governments around the world, including Canada, set 2035 as the date when the sale of new internal combustion engines for consumer vehicles will stop. Automakers of all stripes have announced they will convert their vehicles to an all-electric fleet.
New companies, seeing the opportunity, have emerged. No longer is the competitive landscape owned by traditional automakers. Alongside the Fords and Toyotas of the world are the Lucids and BYDs.
Today, there are few options for full battery electric, hybrid or plug-in hybrid vehicles — zero-emission vehicles, collectively. Most traditional automakers have a, EV model or two available — Ford has the Mach-E and F-150 Lightning; Kia has the Niro; Hyundai the Ioniq 5, which was named the 2023 Utility Vehicle of the year by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada; BMW’s all-electric i4 won Car of the Year.
Buying an EV up to this point has appeared to be more of a status symbol rather than an effort to combat emissions. The costs of an EV mostly mirror those in the luxury vehicle segment.
“There’s not yet a full range of vehicle types that people need particularly around that lower, entry-level threshold,” observed Nino Di Cara, founder and president of Electric Autonomy Canada. “So there’s still a tremendous amount that needs to happen and change in order for us to really cement this transition.”
Relative to internal combustion options, the list of options is small. But it won’t be long until the choices feel endless.
By 2025, industry estimates figure the North American market will have 135 models of electric vehicles as automakers pour in a tremendous amount of investment. Globally, that list will reach 500 models.
Geographically, one out of every 10 cars bought in Europe is electric. In China, it’s one out of every five. In Canada, battery electrics made up 7 per cent of the share of new vehicle registrations, according to S&P Global Mobility last year. When looking at zero-emission vehicle as a whole, the share bumped up to 8.9 per cent.
“These figures demonstrate a clear demand for electric and sustainable transportation in Canada,” S&P’s report said.
And that’s considering the fact that most Canadians haven’t been behind the wheel of an EV, let alone a passenger.
“And EVs have been, in their early days, positioned as a solution to the climate crisis, which they are, but they also really superior technology to combustion vehicles: Fewer moving parts, more efficient use of energy, a lot less cost to maintain and fuel and more fun and responsive to drive. And that message has not gone through to the general public for the most part,” Di Cara told EV World.
“But as the adoption line increases, your neighbour is going to start to have one; your colleague at work, the person at your local gym is going to start talking about it. And when you see your neighbour get a car and you see how happy they are and they take you out for a ride in it — rather than you having to go to a showroom to get a test drive or whatever it may be — it’s going to really start amplifying; the speed is going to start rapidly increasing.”
“There’s not yet a full range of vehicle types that people need particularly around that lower, entry-level threshold. So there’s still a tremendous amount that needs to happen and change in order for us to really cement this transition.”
Even a small action by government can rapidly change things. That’s why many leaders are pushing the aftermarket to think about how they can adapt to the coming wave now.
New Zealand might be the best example of how a nation’s car parc can shift quickly. Zero-emission vehicles make up more than a third of vehicles in the country. Battery electrics alone accounted for 20 per cent of sales in December 2022. About 44 per cent of vehicles in the country are gas (plus another 20 per cent are diesel) as of February, according to EVDB, which collects data on EV ownership in the country.
The New Zealand government gave large financial incentives to buy ZEVs. Most are used and coming from China, pointed out Martyn Johns, national director for NAPA Autopro and emerging technologies.
“In literally 12 months, it has changed their entire car parc,” he said during the NAPA Ontario Associate Owner’s Conference.
The change has been so rapid that shops aren’t fully prepared to service these vehicles. They don’t have the training or parts yet.
“So this isn’t a Canadian problem. It is a global issue. And every single jurisdiction around the world is trying to figure out a solution to it right now,” Johns observed.
Hence the need to move towards change. Electrics are part of the vehicles landscape already. The Toyota Pruis has been around since 2001. As the number of electrics grow, the greater the stress on the aftermarket to be able to service them.
Take a look at Tesla, as an example. The company said it wants its customers to have their vehicles serviced within 48 hours and 100 miles of their homes. With a limited network of service centres, they will need the help of the aftermarket.
“The only way that they do that, it’s us in this room. It’s through the aftermarket, both in the U.S. and in Canada,” Johns said.
A Google search will show that Tesla owners have been venting about the time it takes to get their vehicles repaired — and that started long before the pandemic when supply chains ground to a halt. So the aftermarket can draw in customers with the ability to service customers quickly. Price isn’t a pain point for most EV owners — it’s speed of service.
“That’s our competitive advantage,” Johns said. “Like we normally are in the aftermarket, we need to be more nimble.”
“It’s a choice for the shops when to dive in. But to ignore the fact that a percentage of your business will be electrified would be a mistake.”
Don’t turn around
A question New York-based Kevin FitzPatrick often fields is just how many EVs are shops going to see this year and in the years down the road. For the senior vice president of North America operations with Opus IVS, which provides diagnostics, programming and live repair guidance, he can’t put an exact number on it. That said, whatever is being seen now is only going to increase as the years go on, especially as most people who need a new vehicle are debating whether they should go electric or stick with an internal combustion engine.
“I think most shop owners are seeing a large percentage of their customers now make this decision,” he said in an interview with EV World.
The demand is only growing, Di Cara observed. “The waiting list, as I understand it, is longer for EVs typically than it is for a combustion vehicle right now. So the issue is people want them; it’s just very difficult to get their hands on them.”
And it’s for this reason that shop owners can’t ignore the change that is on their doorstep. “You’d be doing your business a disservice if you’re not readying now,” FitzPatrick said. “If you’re a technician today, to say, ‘Well, this is going to be negative for our business,’ that’s not necessarily true.
He went through the list of services electrics will need done by shops. There are the tires and suspension; heating and cooling systems; fluids are essential in EVs as well.
“It’s a choice for the shops when to dive in. But to ignore the fact that a percentage of your business will be electrified would be a mistake,” said FitzPatrick, who is an ASE certified master tech with L1 and has co-owned a shop since 1996 on Long Island, New York.
And to wait much longer would mean the change will be forced upon you, he warned. “I think it’s going to be less of a business decision in two or three years as more and more of their present customers make the buying decision to move to EVs,” he said. “Today it’s a business decision; tomorrow, it’s going to be less of a business decision — it’s going to be an absolute need.”
Making the transition is how the aftermarket can expect to succeed in the year ahead, he added.
“We want to see we want to see shops flourish. We don’t want to see the aftermarket dwindle. We don’t want these cars going back to the dealership. We want these vehicles in independent, small local shops,” FitzPatrick said. “The only way to make that happen is to make sure that the technicians are trained up and ready to work on them.”
This is just another moment in a long line of technological advancements for the aftermarket.
“The industry overall has overcome challenge after challenge after challenge in the last 50 or so years,” FitzPatrick observed. “I remember transitioning from carburetors to fuel injection, active suspension and everything else. This is just another in a long line of industry changes and challenges.”
“So this isn’t a Canadian problem. It is a global issue. And every single jurisdiction around the world is trying to figure out a solution to it right now.”
Nissan launched one of the original modern-day electric vehicles in Canada with the Leaf in 2011. It’s been their intention to go fully electric, meaning no hybrid vehicles.
“So it was always 100 per cent [electric],” said Francois Lefevre, senior manager of corporate planning and market intelligence at Nissan Canada. “Not bridging the gap or having that complexity of having two technologies working together to drive the vehicle forward.”
At Chevrolet, their focus was to have purpose-built EVs. “That obviously provides a ton of advantages in driving dynamics, storage capacity — when you don’t have a big drive tunnel powertrain tunnel right through the vehicle you have more storage space,” said James Hodge, brand director at Chevrolet Canada. “And just really overall driving dynamics are better.”
And like other brands, they’ve seen positive consumer response to their electrified offerings — about 40 per cent of customers walking into dealerships are asking about EVs, according to Hodge.
“It’s an exciting time and everyone’s getting themselves ready for these EVs for a bigger adoption, whether it be consumers, charging infrastructure, as well as our dealer network as well,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can to get everyone up to speed and ready to adopt EVs as quickly as we can.”
But infrastructure has always been a challenge. There were no public chargers 12 years ago when the Leaf was introduced. The only option for consumers was to charge at home. Today, many consumers don’t consider infrastructure strong enough to warrant an electric vehicle purchase.
“So of course, it’s not going to attract tons of people saying, ‘Oh, yeah, I want that vehicle.’ They can be, obviously, easily stranded going from Ottawa to Toronto, for example,” Lefevre said.
Kia Canada’s vice president and chief operating officer Elias El-Achhab acknowledged the infrastructure challenge in a discussion with EV World, especially in this nation.
“Canada’s a vast country. It’s very easy for a small European country to set up infrastructure — it’s a little bit harder in Canada. We drive longer distances, our cities are further apart, we have a lot of inclement weather that we have to deal with,” he said. “And so it’s an expensive and time-consuming endeavour to set up the infrastructure. You have to upgrade the grid in a lot of places and make sure you can get clean electricity. So that’s more of where we are trying to navigate and work through the long-term plans.”
But times are changing. Infrastructure is growing — whether it is keeping up with demand is debatable, but there are growing options for drivers to charge their vehicles, be it at their office, shopping mall or at public stations.
Still, range is a priority so drivers don’t have to find a place to charge so often. “We’ve been really focused on that — delivering a vehicle that could provide the right amount of range, depending on what you do,” Lefevre said.
Consumers can choose to buy a Leaf or Aria with one or two batteries. If a customer is using their electric vehicle locally, spending the extra money for an extra battery isn’t necessary. “We need to provide the choice to the customer.”
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