Answers for the Future of Auto Maintenance

April 1, 2021
There’s a bright future for quick maintenance. Take a look at four big questions that operators have about the future of the industry.

Electric vehicles are having a big year. Consumer sales of one of the most talked-about EV models—the Ford Mach E—are expected to begin in 2021. Volkswagen, Hyundai and others have fully electric models making big debuts as well.

Electric vehicles still account for just a fraction of global auto sales—around 2.6 percent in 2019, according to the International Energy Agency. There’s still a great outlook for quick maintenance, and industry leaders are making investments that show confidence in the business for decades to come.

But the attention and growth of the electric vehicle segment has some quick lube owners wondering: How can quick maintenance rise to meet long-term needs of drivers?

Craig Van Batenburg has been ahead of the curve on this topic. A former service shop owner, he jumped into the hybrid game in October 1999 when he walked into a Honda dealership to purchase an early hybrid model, the Honda Insight.

He’s now CEO of the Automotive Career Development Center, which specializes in EV and hybrid technology education, and has been thinking about the future of automotive repair and service.

With the help of Van Batenburg and the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), NOLN has answers for some of the most burning questions you might have about the future of vehicle maintenance.

1: What is the timeline for EV growth?

It’s difficult to say for sure. Industry trends, government regulation and consumer preference will all have considerable impacts on the market growth of electric vehicles.

Research from BloombergNEF suggests that EVs will make up just 8 percent of the 1.4 billion vehicles on roads across the globe by 2030 and grow more quickly over the ensuing decade. The sectors to see the most EV adoption early include municipal buses and light commercial vehicles, in addition to passenger vehicles.

Research from Deloitte predicts that the United States will lag behind China and Europe in the number of electric vehicles roaming its roadways. By 2030, the firm suggests that the United States will account for 14 percent of global EV sales. 

Experts say that hybrids will remain as a crucial powertrain over the next few decades, which require many of the traditional quick maintenance work for their internal combustion component.

On the larger time scale, Van Batenburg looks toward 2050 as a benchmark year.

“If you fast forward to 2050 everybody is going to be driving electric. It’s obvious that’s where we’re going to be,” he says.

2: How will quick maintenance look in the future?

As oil changes happen less frequently, shops will need to diversify into other areas—it’s as simple as that.

“The shops have to adjust,” Van Batenburg says. “If they're going to stay in business, they’ll need to do everything.”

There are parts that exist on today’s vehicles that will likely remain and need maintenance or replacement in future designs. They include wipers, air filters, shocks and struts, brake fluid, and tires.

A diversified shop of the future might look at the possibility of new services related to EV designs, including EV-specific fluids. Companies like Valvoline and Shell have already come out with their own lines of EV fluids that act as battery coolants, drive system fluids, and specially made greases.

For EV fluid exchanges, be aware that EVs require them far less frequently than an oil change.

“The first fluid change on my Chevy Bolt EV was 150,000 miles or 10 years,” Van Batenburg says. “That’s the first fluid change of any sort.”

When thinking about brake work, look more closely at fluid flushes rather than lots of pad and rotor replacements. That’s because regenerative braking systems eat through pads and rotors more slowly.

“The majority of the braking is done with an electric motor that's connected to the axles that’s actually driving the car,” Van Batenurg says.

Still, an overall diagnostic check of these systems can be a great service to drivers, and quick lubes are primed to offer that.

3: What resources can help shops prepare?

Proper training is going to be the key to a strong independent aftermarket now and into the future, and the growth of hybrid and electric vehicle systems is on the minds of those who create training materials and certifications.

The leader in that area is ASE. Trish Serratore, senior vice president communications for the organization, says that it has already begun making changes to its test materials.

“We’re handling it in a couple ways,” she says. “The most basic way is those electric vehicles and those hybrid vehicles have systems that are the same as a gas combustion car. So in every ASE test where it's appropriate, we have content or test questions that relate to electric vehicles.”

Around two years ago, ASE debuted its advanced level hybrid electric vehicle test, which was its first test specifically for those kinds of vehicles.

While some material has to address certain OEM systems, the goal for a generalized test is to be widely applicable. To achieve this in its test, Serratore says that ASE was able to bring together representatives from OEM and aftermarket sectors to create a “composite vehicle.”

“How do we make it better for the technicians?” she says. “So they really came together and worked hard for about a year to get this composite vehicle together and the questions and task list to make sure that it would be a valid instrument that actually assesses the competency without having to dive into a particular OE.”

The composite vehicle is meant to be a blueprint for the most modern vehicle design that techs will encounter.

4: What role will data play?

As a commodity, data is the new oil. Shops in the future could provide a service by receiving vehicle data, parsing important service information, and relaying that to the customer.

Van Batenburg is based in Massachusetts, where voters recently passed new Right to Repair legislation. He drew a line from that data availability to service opportunities for independent shops. It involves technology that already exists.

“It’s just a little circuit board that you literally glue onto the bearing race,” he says. “It’s got it’s own battery. And it reports to a computer the vibration and temperature of that unit.”

Readings from that circuit could help shops predict when a wheel bearing, a crankshaft bearing, or a transmission bearing might fail. The availability of that data—wirelessly—might give a shop a service opportunity. Or, a tech could simply replace the sensor when necessary.

The Bottom Line

Owners should rest assured that internal combustion vehicles, including hybrids, will be in the mix for decades to come. But the notable rise of electric vehicles in recent years should have operators thinking about the long term.

A changing set of service opportunities might alter the training and role of the quick lube shop, but the strength of the business model will remain. Pull-up service that’s quick, friendly and within budget will continue to be popular among car owners.