As Bob Dylan once said, ‘Times, they are a Changin.’ Currently, the automotive industry seems gripped in electric vehicle fever, with new announcements every day regarding a new product launch or infrastructure project.
For those of us that work in the aftermarket sector, however, trying to make sense of all of this and plan for the future is proving to be daunting, with EV adoption generating many questions.
To help answer some of those, the Automotive Aftermarket Retailers of Ontario (AARO), decided to make EVs a big part of its Inaugural Fleet Day event, which took place on June 16 at the Toronto Airport Marriott Hotel, located at 901 Dixon Road in Mississauga, Ont.
Besides multiple presentations throughout the day, along with a luncheon and networking breaks, attendees also got a chance to sample three battery-electric vehicles on-site, including Ford’s new E-Transit commercial van, the new battery-electric F-150 Lightning pickup, and a Hyundai IONIQ 5 which AARO is using to train technicians on EV maintenance and servicing.
The day began with a session entitled Productivity Accelerated, and Dana Goodfellow Marketing Manager with Ford Pro–a productivity accelerator and solutions platform for business and fleet customers.
Redefine fleet success
Goodfellow explained that via Ford Pro, the Ford Motor Company is looking to redefine the concept of success for its fleet customers with vehicles like the F-Series pickups and commercial vans. Ford Pro is positioned as a global business entity within the automaker to provide leading-edge fleet solutions for customers ranging from small outfits to big commercial operations. Goodfellow stated that Ford Pro provides software, charging, service, and financing solutions for work vehicles. “We are a partner to anyone that relies on a truck or a van for work,” she said.
“We know that our fleet and government customers are different from retail clients and Ford Pro was borne from that concept.”
What’s interesting about Ford Pro is that it is designed to support fleets that have not only internal combustion engine and battery electric vehicles but also operate vehicles from multiple brands.
Goodfellow also explained that Ford Pro will integrate, digitize and simplify transportation with capabilities that include integrated end-to-end solutions, which includes depot, on-the-road, and home charging for EVs. The concept behind this is to try and provide fleets with a smooth transition option from ICE to battery electric vehicles.
This is an important consideration, especially for service centres that have fleet accounts. A major question hanging over the concept of EV transition lies with having an adequate infrastructure to support these vehicles and not just from a single brand, but multiple different ones as well.
For service providers that have fleet customers planning to electrify their assets—this means that—not only can these clients can bring their vehicles to the shop for maintenance and repairs but, that they can also effectively and efficiently utilize battery-electric trucks and vans in a similar fashion to what they currently do with conventional vehicles.
How things will ultimately pan out with fleet electrification still remains to be seen, but with a focus on ICE, hybrid, and battery electric transportation solutions, as well as servicing, financing, and upfitting, Ford Pro appears to be well-positioned to help fleet customers optimize their businesses in the years and months ahead.
Electrification is a hot topic
Sticking with charging, Kyle Williams from Northwinds Electrical Supply took to the stage next. Williams discussed how electrification has become the number one topic of conversation for not just vehicle fleets, but property management companies, homeowners, and businesses. “Everybody is kind of in this industry with eyes wide open, trying to grasp the concept of electrification and how it is going to roll out.”
Williams noted that aggressive federal government mandates to transition from internal combustion engine vehicles to EVs have OEMs working overtime to come up with viable solutions, including the proliferation of battery electric cars and trucks we’re now seeing enter the marketplace.
Additionally, adoption rates and consumer confidence need to increase significantly, before EVs are seen as a mainstream transportation solution. On the charging front, being able to realize lofty goals such as 40 percent new vehicle sales as EVs by 2030 requires not only the ability to provide adequate charging infrastructure but ensuring that charging a vehicle becomes essentially a non-event, much in the same way as filling your tank with gasoline or diesel.
One of Northwinds’ key vendors is FLO, a Canadian company headquartered in Quebec City, with an established, 12-year track record in developing EV charging infrastructure. At present, FLO has 65 % market share in Canada when it comes to EV chargers and Williams noted that currently, there are 61,000 EV chargers available to FLO members across North America, with the network operating at 98 percent capacity.
That being said, there are still major challenges facing widespread EV adoption. There still needs to be a massive ramp-up in EV charging accessibility, though companies like FLO are doing what they can to improve that, not only via the chargers themselves, whether Level 1, Level 2, or Level 3, but by also improving the user experience when it comes to charging, by reducing wait times and using apps and software to provide drivers with better location access when planning their routes.
When it comes to features such as apps, Williams noted how important customer reviews on these features are likely to play a significant role in consumer confidence and adoption of EVs, much in the way online reviews today help many consumers determine whether they want to use a particular service or purchase from a particular business.
Education on EVs
Next on the agenda was Ron Groves from Plug ‘n Drive who delivered a session entitled: Avoiding Mistakes in the Transition to Fleet Electrification. Groves discussed the role of Plug ‘n Drive and how it was created as a non-profit entity, led by Cara Clairman, to provide education on electric vehicles. Plug ‘n Drive provides the opportunity for consumers to visit its Electric Vehicle Discovery Centre headquarters, showroom and education facility in North York (Toronto), or alternatively, if they are located in different parts of Canada, has a traveling Mobile Electric vehicle Education Trailer (MEET)—in essence, a mini mobile version of the Discovery Centre that can be taken across the country and displayed for a few days in different cities.
Groves discussed not only the importance of new EV incentives but also those for used vehicles, which he feels are key to ensuring electric vehicles can appeal to as broad a sector of the population as possible.
He also noted that although today, there are now more than 50 new EVs available on the market and some can cover a distance of more than 300 km on a single charge, consumers still need to consider which EV is right for their particular circumstances. Not only does this come down to personal preference, driving range, and utility factors, but also charging infrastructure.
Tesla, for example, has its own adapters for Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 chargers, and those who drive other brands of EVs, cannot use Tesla’s Level 3 Superchargers due to different adapters.
Another advantage Tesla owners have is that the vehicle knows where Tesla chargers are located, making it easier for operators to plan the route, though other solutions such as Chargehub and Plugshare can show drivers of other EVs where chargers are located.
Groves also discussed developments in plug and charge technology which will allow EV chargers to ID the vehicle at the charging station and the bill is sent directly to the owner. Although EV registrations are growing, Groves explained that we can still, as a society do a lot more to educate consumers on the benefits of EV adoption. Examples cited not only include incentives for both new and used vehicle purchases, but also new and innovative financing options as well as updated building codes to facilitate more EV charging. Groves said that if all vehicles in the Greater Toronto Area were electrified, we could see a 68.5% reduction in annual greenhouse gas emissions. In Ontario and Quebec and in fact, across Canada, added benefits include relatively clean energy that powers the grid including nuclear and hydroelectric powerplants.
Moving to the service and maintenance side of things, Darryl Croft, who owns and operates OK Tire Etobicoke and has long been servicing EVs, explained how rising fuel costs and inflation are likely to impact many consumers in the wallet and that in turn, provides an opportunity for service providers to educate them about EVs and the potential long-term savings, particularly as it relates to mechanical repairs due to fewer moving parts.
This was iterated by Xavier Gordon, President of Xergy Energy, who highlighted the value proposition of EV maintenance which in theory, can translate to a 50 percent reduction in parts and services compared with a traditional internal combustion engine vehicle.
When it comes to fleets, despite the range of chargers and adapter types currently on the market and many questions surrounding the best approach to charging, depot, on the road, or at home or a combination of, Gordon explained that EV adoption doesn’t have to be complicated. He explained that ideally, a good charging program will maximize vehicle utility, minimize infrastructure and electricity costs as well as provide information for feedback for changes in both fleet and energy-related costs.
He noted that one of the biggest mistakes fleet managers can make, is to purchase or lease vehicles with the most utility which means they could end up with a vehicle that isn’t necessarily right for the job. Gordon even explained that in greening your fleet, also consider hybrid as well as pure electric vehicles and make sure trial programs are conducted to allow employees to experience these vehicles and prove their practicality on a real-world basis.
Although much of AARO’s fleet day discussed electric vehicles, many fleets still rely on diesel-powered vehicles and will likely do so for many years to come. And on many modern diesel vehicles, proper maintenance includes paying attention to diesel after-treatment systems.
These systems are designed to reduce emissions output on diesel engines and are a requisite on virtually all light and medium-duty vehicles sold in Canada and the U.S.
Yet there are issues with them as Mark Henry of DPF pointed out. High idle times reduce the ability to lower soot build-up while crystallization of the diesel exhaust fluid happens at low temperatures. Furthermore, if particulate filters are not replaced and fluid tanks are not replenished, the result can be very costly repairs, something that fleet managers want to avoid at all costs.
To help them, companies like DPF offer maintenance services for fleets, with fast turnaround ensuring vehicles are serviced properly and back on the road. In business since 2009, DPF has seven locations across Canada and is recognized as a leading specialist when it comes to diesel engine after-treatment systems.
The final session of the day came from Victor Moreira at Mevotech and was entitled, Why You Need Aftermarket Solutions for Hybrids and EVs.
An important role
A lot of the news and hype currently revolving around EVs tends to be focused on the OEM and new car dealer sector, yet the aftermarket has a very important role to play when it comes to EV operations. There are plenty of hybrids and a growing number of battery electrics that are entering aftermarket service bays and as these vehicles continue to age, they will require more maintenance.
Independent service centres need to understand that firstly, used vehicle buyers generally do not like taking their car or truck to a dealer for service work. Secondly, when it comes to hybrids and battery electrics (particularly the latter) service requirements are notably different from traditional vehicles. Moreira pointed out the weight of the battery packs and the low centre of gravity, which puts added pressure on tires and suspension components.
As a result, components like tie rods, bushings, ball joints, dampers, and springs will tend to wear out faster, along with tires, and with aftermarket companies like Mevotech not constrained by the same parameters as OEMs, they can offer heavier-duty and more durable replacement components. Additionally, Moreira said that not only can these durable OE alternatives help improve overall vehicle performance and reliability, but they also provide an option to reduce wait times for OE parts impacted by global supply shortages, which in turn helps fleets reduce costs and boost operating efficiency.