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Chesney: Aftermarket Repairers in 'A Perfect Spot' as EVs Loom Large

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August 25, 2021—In the weeks leading up to its Summit this December in Nashville, ADAPT Automotive will talk with several keynote speakers and other presenters who will be at the conference about pressing topics and trends facing the industry.

In the first edition of the Summit Speakers series, industry veteran Chris Chesney discusses the adoption of electric vehicles and why ICEs will continue to have a strong hold on the market for the foreseeable future.

As told to Digital Multimedia Editor Noah Brown:

My passion around this technology is founded from my engineering background and wanting to know what's next, especially from a technician and a shop owner’s perspective, and I've played both roles.

EVs, first of all, need to be well-defined, and that term has been misconstrued, misappropriated in marketing and in news and everywhere else. And that'll be the first thing we do. And my presentation has to understand what an EV is. It includes hybrids, it includes plug-in hybrids, it includes battery electric vehicles.

That technology is not going to scale for at least two decades, probably. That depends on our administration; they’ll dictate how quickly things occur. And then if another administration gets in in 2024, that change itself will back everything up. 

From the perspective of those vehicles rolling in their door tomorrow morning, no, shop owners won’t see that. But from the perspective of will that technology ultimately going to come in their front door? It absolutely will. And it may be accelerated, so that means you have to be service-ready not when they show up, but before they show up. 

The technologies that will be in play in both hybrids and BEVs already exist within the ICEs that are coming in your door, so if you don’t have those skill sets, those competencies today, you’re behind already on the vehicles you’re working on.

We've been through this kind of technological transition in my career many, many times. Drum brake to disc brake, points ignition to electronic ignition, distributor ignition to distributorless ignition, abs brakes, tire pressure monitoring systems. At the end of the day, these things will fail. We'll find our niche.

All of these devices have filters and cooling systems onboard. Electricity generates heat. It has to be cooled. There'll be air filters and coolant filters and coolant exchanges, things of that nature. They’re still onboard the vehicle, and we're going to have the aftermarket just like we have in the past. 

Think of the services that we provide today. We're not going to do oil changes on a battery electric vehicle, but we will on a plug-in hybrid and a hybrid. Those vehicles still have oil. We're not going to do gearbox or transmission fluid changes because the gearbox is typically consolidated into the electric engine drive train. But we’re still going to have suspensions that fail. We're still going to have electrical systems, primarily data networks and data buses on board to control those systems. We have those today. We're still going to have tires and brakes that wear out. One thing is very clear: Human beings are building these machines and they will fail.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the car parc is actually stretching in size simply because the quality of the average aged vehicle, that 12-year-old vehicle, is a much higher quality vehicle than a 20 year old vehicle was when it was an average age vehicle. So the car parc is significantly expanded, which will provide more opportunities for repairers down the road.

And the third thing is that the consumer has to accept the technology and say "I think I want to buy one," and that hasn't been proven yet. It’s going to take a long period of time for the buying public to accept new technologies. We've done a poor job as an industry of onboarding the consumer, the motorist to what that technology is and the benefit of it.

We see it in our research centers across the country, that the majority of the time, those technologies are turned off or ignored, or consumers don't even know they exist. They were never on-boarded by the new car salesperson. So they're really agnostic towards most of them and they don't want to be bothered with them, and when they first experienced them, it’s an ‘oh my God, what is that?’ type reaction. We've done a poor job as an industry of onboarding the consumer, the motorist to what that technology is and the benefit of it.

You have to have customers that actually want to buy those vehicles, but there's only two ways they're going to get us to do it to scale: Either force it by giving it away through rebates and things of that nature or mandating it by taxing global are taxing CO2 producing fuels, fossil fuels to the point where we can't afford not to do it.

Adoption may happen a few years earlier than I predict, but I think we’ve got a long, rich market in front of us over the next 20 years, and for the next three, four, five years, I see huge opportunities for this industry because of what is going on in our market today. 

We’re in a perfect spot. We provide convenience. We still have relationships with our customers and advise them if we’re educated on what to buy and what the experience is going to be. 

The challenge to the aftermarket is to be prepared, to educate yourself about the technology before you see it on the shop floor. It’s not overly difficult, you just have to spend the time to absorb the information. 

Image: Ed Harvey

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