Electric car revolution: You bought one, but can you get it serviced?
Tesla, Ford, GM and other automakers that offer electric vehicles
Interest in electric vehicles is on the rise in the U.S. amid record-high gas prices, and automakers are scrambling to roll out models as the Biden administration pushes its goal for EVs to account for half of all new vehicle sales by the end of the decade.
But as more manufacturers introduce EVs, traditional dealerships are sounding the alarm over having the ability to service them for customers.
"The government's wanting to make this transition and shift to EVs, and there are several concerns around that in the automotive vertical and specifically the dealership world," says Sean Kelley, founder of CarMotivators, a coaching service for dealerships across the country.
Kelley says service shops are already struggling with a shortage of technicians as it is, and finding qualified techs to work on EVs is an even taller order. Shops can also send current employees to specialized schools or training to become certified to work on EVs, but that pulls them off the shop floor and cuts into the bottom line at a time when dealerships are relying more on service to keep up with the high demand for sellable used vehicle inventory amid new car shortages.
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Electric cars also require specialized tools that are "not cheap" and additional infrastructure for a dealership, Kelley told FOX Business. He points out that servicing electric cars means they will have to add specialized tools, equipment, and charging stations through costly permits that "sometimes can involve tearing apart your whole shop."
While many dealerships have already made such changes or are in the process of doing so, Kelley notes that independent dealerships that aren't linked to an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) make up a large percentage of the retail automotive business, and may have even more difficulty making the transition to selling and servicing EVs.
The transition also costs big bucks that lower-volume shops will have more difficulty absorbing. The Detroit News reported last year that General Motors required dealers to invest a minimum of $200,000 in order to begin selling Cadillac's EV lineup. Of the 880 dealerships, between 180 and 200 smaller shops chose to take a buyout from GM rather than make the investment, according to the outlet.
But as demand increases, the ability to service EVs could become a necessity.
One of the benefits of owning an electric car is that they require less maintenance and fewer trips to the service shop. EVs do not require oil changes or fuel filter replacements like cars with internal combustion engines, but occasional maintenance is still necessary. And finding someone to work on an EV — particularly if you do not live near a dealership certified to do so — can be a challenge.
Tesla sells more EVs than any other company in the world and has more than 150 service centers in the U.S. The company offers "over-the-air software updates, remote diagnostics" and "Mobile Service technicians" to reduce the need to visit a service center, according to the company's website.
One Tesla owner in Missouri, where there are two Tesla service centers — one in Kansas City and one in St. Louis — told FOX Business that the company typically sends a technician when service is needed, so it has not been a huge burden.
Since they purchased their Model X in December 2020, the owner has made the two-hour trip to a service shop twice: once for an optional software upgrade and another time for a necessary fix for a broken suspension part and a tire alignment. They said it is worth it not to have to bother with the more frequent maintenance required for a car that runs on gasoline.
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Several other carmakers said that their dealerships would be ready as they roll out more EV models.
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A General Motors spokesperson told FOX Business that the company has added more than 70 field service engineers to support dealers for EV readiness, and that GM requires every dealership allowed to sell and service EVs to have a minimum of two technicians who have fully completed an EV training path. The spokesperson said that technicians must complete more than 60 courses in order to become a GM Master Class Technician.
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GM also offers live interactive agents who provide support for dealers and customers alike on all their products, including their EV portfolio.
A Hyundai spokesperson told FOX Business that "preparing the entire dealership network to both sell and service electric vehicles and deliver an outstanding customer service experience is one of our main priorities."
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The spokesperson said that in order to sell the company's new lineup of IONIQ electric vehicles, "dealers undergo extensive sales and service training, and enhance their facility with the proper service tooling, charging equipment and a dedicated display area."
They added, "We are fully committed to helping our dealer partners prepare for an electric future as we believe these investments represent a tremendous business opportunity to be a leader in more sustainable transportation."
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Ford told FOX Business more than 2,300 of its dealers are EV certified, with at least one EV-certified service technician on staff that has completed 147 hours in total training for advanced electronics and high voltage eLearning and classroom technical training. Some dealers already have multiple certified techs.
EV-certified Ford dealers are also required to have in place all the tools and equipment needed to service high voltage systems.
Elizabeth Tarquino, Ford's manager for technical support operations, said 4,252 of the 40,000 Ford technicians have already completed the company's high voltage certification class since it launched early last year, and that demand for the trainings is strong.
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She said that a lot of people are assuming that the transition to electric vehicles will happen immediately and that all of a sudden dealerships are going to switch over to all-electric, but that the changes will actually happen more like an evolution.
"It doesn't happen overnight because we still have a lot of [internal combustion engines] on the road that we'll still be servicing," Tarquino told FOX Business. "It isn't one or the other — we're going to see a blend of ICE vehicles and electric vehicles and that will shift over time."
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As for maintenance, Tarquino said that she has been driving a Ford all-electric Mustang Mach E for over a year, and that she has not needed to take it in for service yet. She pointed out that a lot of the updates to EVs can be done "over-the-air" without requiring customers to visit a shop.
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Tarquino also noted that Ford sees it as a competitive advantage that so many of the dealerships in its network across the U.S. are already EV certified as more EVs roll out.
"So, hopefully," she says, "we don't have people having to drive two hours for service."