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Honda decision has flicked a switch on UK’s readiness for electric car repair, warns ACIS

Posted by Ian Gallagher on 29th April 2019

Brexit 'solvent abuse'

Honda’s decision to end UK manufacture and move future operations back to Japan has flicked a light switch on the global electrification arms race that will shine a far-reaching beam across the UK automotive industry, according to our CEO, Graham O’Neill.

O’Neill, who heads the UK’s leading distribution network to the accident repair market, warned two years ago that the market needed to dramatically gear up for the growth of electric and hybrid vehicles, which have the potential to put more than a dent in bodyshop profitability if not addressed.

“Honda’s decision goes beyond Brexit – it’s about the future of the industry – but it will have a profound effect on the automotive supply chain as so few UK manufacturers and repair shops are ready for the next generation of electric vehicles, a fact confirmed by research from Cardiff Business School,” he said.

“Although the Government has signposted 2040 as the end of the road for diesel and petrol engines, we are already on a game-changing journey which will potentially see a dramatic overhaul of our industry in terms of training need, key-to-key times and ultimately cost.

“We are already facing the challenges of increasing Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) technology impacting key-to-key times, let alone where we need to be in terms of electric and hybrid repairs, which are a completely new ball game for many bodyshops.

“We are suddenly going from grease to lightning at an accelerated rate and, with Honda’s decision, and other manufacturers reviewing their global strategies, the UK could find itself in an electrification backwater, despite the best efforts of automotive industry, such as JLR’s battery technology investment in the Midlands.

“The strategic learnings can take time to percolate down the supply chains and we need to be more switched on to the inherent safety risks for bodyshop personnel dealing with hybrids and electric vehicles. Specialist training, such as that provided by the Institute of Motor Industry (IMI), will be important for technicians to avoid electrocution.”

IMI campaign

In 2017, the IMI spearheaded a campaign to keep motor technicians safe by adopting the correct repair protocols – for example, how to disconnect the batteries and charge them down before commencing a job.

E-cars can contain circuits running at more than three times the 230 volts found in the domestic mains supply, posing a real risk of electrocution and fire unless properly handled, according to the IMI, which is pressing for the need to set up a licensing system for electric car mechanics to ensure they are properly trained.

There are about 180,000 car mechanics in the UK, of whom less than a quarter are on the IMI’s professional register. Its figures suggest there are currently around 50,000 electric cars on the roads and only 1,000 people trained to fix them. Removing batteries – often protected within an ‘armoured’ casing to shield against vibration and impact – takes time and specialist care.

Hybrid dangers

On hybrids, switching off the petrol or diesel engine does not necessarily disengage the electric battery which could present dangers for uninitiated bodyshop technicians. Likewise, battery removal is imperative before the prime and painting process as they would not respond well to the high levels of heat generated from drying booths.

“There are already a number of bodyshops able to repair electric and hybrid vehicles, but we are looking at a major volume increase in numbers over the next few years. Bodyshops need to be ready and have the right training in place,” added O’Neill.

“All of these factors could add to the time and the cost of repairs, certainly in the short term, as volumes increase in line with the UK being weaned off fossil fuelled vehicles.

“We are looking at a steep learning curve and a dramatic requirement for up-skilling and this has got to start now – we cannot wait until 2040 and hope for the best.”