Windsor

Why electric vehicle owners are pushing to drive change in how mechanics are trained

While electric vehicles are key in the Ontario automotive industry's future, servicing them can be a challenge, with owners in Windsor, for example, possibly having to go to another city for major issues. But there's a push to address the shortage of auto mechanics with EV tech skills.

Windsor's St. Clair College looking at potential for EV component in auto mechanics program

Sean Hart, left, and Pino Mastroianni, both with the Electric Vehicle Society in Windsor, emphasize the need for skilled mechanics to work on EVs, which are gearing up to become a big player in the automotive industry. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

In the seven years Sean Hart has owned his Nissan Leaf electric vehicle (EV), it hasn't needed many repairs, so he's been able to get regular maintenance of tires and brakes done in Windsor, Ont.

But that may change if he needs major repairs, because the Nissan dealership in the city doesn't have a technician to do them. He'd instead have to take his EV to London.

"Yeah, it's unfortunate that Nissan in Windsor still hasn't decided to sell or service the Leaf. I'm hoping they will soon," said Hart, also vice-president of the Electric Vehicle Society, about the dilemma facing owners of electric and plug-in hybrid EV owners.

Mastroianni, with his Chevy Volt, says while most new car dealerships in Windsor that carry EVs can service them, that's not the case with independent auto mechanics. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

Pino Mastroianni, chapter president of the EV Society Windsor-Essex, says while most new car dealerships in Windsor that carry EVs can service them, that's not the case with independent auto mechanics.

"Locally, I'm not aware of anyone who does any of the extensive high-voltage repairs," said Mastroianni, who owns a Chevy Volt.

Mastroianni said Tesla will sometimes do service house calls, but some work still has to be done in Toronto, adding the auto company is opening a facility soon in London.

Auto mechanic shops say there's little incentive to work on EVs, because of the complexity of dealing with them and the relatively few numbers on the road.

"There's a lot of electronics on these cars and there's a lot of schooling you've got to go to," said Marc Thibert, manager of the Kipping Tire shop in downtown Windsor. "You also have to get the proper equipment not only for the vehicle itself, but for the technicians, for protective equipment as well, just because it's electric shock."

While EVs have fewer moving parts, Thibert said, that can prove to be a challenge to troubleshoot the electronics.

WATCH | Cara Clairman of Plug N' Go speak on the shortage of EV mechanics:

Cara Clairman from Plug'n Drive says EV mechanics are in short supply

4 months ago
Duration 0:36
So you own an EV. Good luck getting it serviced outside of a dealership. Cara Clairman from Plug'n Drive says more mechanics need to be trained on EVs and fast. 0:36

"I think we need to do a lot more training," said Cara Clairman, president and CEO of Plug N' Go, a non-profit organization aimed at promoting EVs.

"We need to really push that up across Ontario, where kids who go into colleges to learn to be a mechanic, learning about EVs alongside [internal combustion engines] or gas vehicles. And then we need to do some extra training for folks who are already mechanics."

We are looking at the potential ramping up of this program, what are the costs in terms of the facility and infrastructure.- Peter Wawrow, St. Clair College, on possibly adding EV training to mechanics program

St. Clair College is working to develop EV training as part of its auto mechanics program.

"So we have to look at the technology involved in addressing that," said Peter Wawrow, St. Clair's director, applied research and development. "We are looking at the potential ramping up of this program, what are the costs in terms of the facility and infrastructure."

An electric vehicle at one of Windsor's charging stations. 'There's a lot of electronics on these cars and there's a lot of schooling' involved in serving them, says Marc Thibert, manager of the Kipping Tire shop in downtown Windsor. (CBC News)

Wawrow said they are also pursuing research and development in battery production.

"The [Windsor-Essex] region itself is looking at attracting battery manufacturers, and we've been working closely with the region to understand what that entails and what kind of talent we need to develop in order to address that."

Wawrow said the college is also looking at adding the auto mechanics program to its apprenticeship program.

Derek Snider, owner and head mechanic at Heinz Garage, an auto repair shop in Windsor, realizes independent mechanics will have no choice but to offer service for EVs once production of new gas-powered vehicles are banned in 2035.

"Someone like me, who has been doing this for 15 years, I'm going to have to keep up on my side of training to keep up," said Snider.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dale Molnar

Video Journalist

Dale Molnar is an award-winning video journalist at CBC Windsor. He is a graduate of the University of Windsor and has worked in television, radio and print.

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