3 May 2016

Government investment of £30m needed in training to boost electric vehicle sales, report warns

This is the finding of a new report written by Professor Jim SakerDirector of the Centre for Automotive Management at Loughborough University, which was commissioned by the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI). It warns the Government to make a £30 million cash injection in the upskilling of thousands of maintenance and repair technicians in the UK retail motor industry, in order to safely support the growth of future car technology.

Professor Saker also says the Government will need to spend more of the £600 million it has set aside to promote the uptake of low emission vehicles, on charging infrastructure across the whole of the UK. He adds that the £40 million currently allocated to just four cities is inadequate to meet air quality and emission targets, and the Chancellor’s goal of every new car and van being ultra-low emission by 2040.

The report, On the Road to Sustainable Growth, shows how the UK car market is experiencing dramatic changes with plug-in hybrid sales more than doubling and pure electric vehicles increasing 50% in 2015. The report points out that this growth will soon impact on small businesses that will struggle to make the investment needed to provide consumers with choice and value for money.

Professor Saker also points to a serious health and safety issue with unskilled mechanics attempting to work on machines with 600 volts coursing through them.

With over 90% of independent garages saying they would need to retrain existing technicians to undertake work on these vehicles; it’s clear that unless a proactive strategy is undertaken, the UK will not be able to support the growth of future car technology safely.

Professor Saker suggests the Government introduce a license to practice in order to drive investment in the necessary training and make it illegal for untrained technicians to work on electric and hybrid vehicles.

“Anyone working on these high voltage vehicles needs to be properly trained, accredited and licensed,” he said.

“To achieve this, our government needs to introduce or approve a scheme similar to the one we have in place for those working on gas boilers (Gas Safe Register), and the IMI’s Professional Register is a ready-made solution.  More also needs to be done to ensure that the physical infrastructure keeps pace with the rapidly increasing demand for these new technologies, which have the potential to generate a large number of jobs going forward.

“Apprenticeship recruitment in the automotive retail sector has been static in recent years. What we’re looking at now is a great opportunity to reenergise this sector by attracting more young people to work with these exciting, future oriented technologies.

“As an independent commentator with many years’ experience and knowledge of the automotive sector I can see that we are at a crossroad; the right initiatives now, along with some appropriate investment can certainly unlock the full potential that the new technologies are capable of contributing to our economy – calculated at £51 billion by 2030. However, we cannot achieve one without the other.”

Steve Nash, IMI CEO, said: “Electric plug-in hybrid and hybrid vehicles are no longer the future, they are here now, and the numbers are set to increase very rapidly over the next few years, with all manufacturers broadening their product offerings. The problem is that to the uninitiated they are just another car with some new technology, when in fact they are nothing like the cars we have all been driving up to now. 

“There are currently around 1,000 people qualified to work on high voltage electrics and they all work for the vehicle manufacturers, who will continue to train their own staff to meet demand.

“However, as the volumes of these new vehicles grow, there are thousands of other technicians that will be challenged to offer that kind of service, and without some sort of license requiring them to be properly trained and qualified, independent garages that make up 85% of the businesses operating in the service & repair sector will not invest in that kind of training. That means that their staff will either risk their lives working on unfamiliar systems that carry lethally high voltages, or they will simply refer everything back to the franchised dealers, reducing competition in the sector. I cannot imagine that either of these outcomes is likely to be palatable for the Government.”