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Article | Managing Risk

The challenges of maintaining and repairing electric vehicle fleets

Will this present greater risks to a business’s operations?

Risk & Analytics|Risk Management Consulting
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By Andrew Millinship | May 14, 2021

As more and more electric vehicles are seen on our roads, the repair sector is gearing up for an expected increase in volume, we present the implications.

Through ongoing discussions with our clients, we are seeing the reality of many either switching, or considering switching, all or parts of their fleets to utilise electric vehicles (EVs), moving away from more traditional Internal Combustion Engined (ICE) vehicles.

Although technology continues to develop, fleets are now accepting they need to change their operations to suit the vehicle specifications currently available.

As a key measure of a business’ capabilities going forward, more emphasis on meeting corporate social responsibilities (CSR) and environmental commitments, utilising zero emission vehicles is a positive step towards meeting these objectives.

Additionally, new operational key performance indicators (KPI’s) for fleets need to be defined to reflect the use of EVs. Comparing new KPI’s with the previous use of ICE vehicles may provide limited relevance as an “apples for apples” comparison is no longer possible.

To some degree the operational availability of the present generation of EVs, (considering cars and light commercial vehicles when used in a commercial context), is unknown, as we embrace this new technology and gain operational experience.

As part of our ongoing research to enable us to deliver insight, we have discussed the current environment in relation to the repair of EVs with vehicle dealerships and repairers, including a main dealer representing one of the largest global motor vehicle manufacturers.

In discussion with the main dealership we asked some key questions and following is a review of responses including our thoughts, from a risk-based perspective.

Are vehicle repairers seeing an increase in the number of EVs being presented for repair?

Currently no, but it is expected that numbers will increase significantly in 2021 as EV usage progresses further, embedding this type of vehicle in commercial fleets and company car drivers.

Our View

The previous low levels could be due to the demographics of the type of driver who has previously decided to use an EV – this type of driver could have been low risk. This could now change with more drivers of differing risk profiles now able to use an EV for at work activities.

Is repair work more complicated due to the vehicle being an EV?

Yes. Any repair work on an EV is made more challenging by safety considerations associated with the vehicles battery pack and electrical system; the major consideration is a process of safe isolation and deactivation of the battery pack.

Vehicle manufacturers are investing heavily, in conjunction with main dealerships, in providing centres of excellence for repairs to EVs and this network will continue to grow.

Most manufacturer supported dealerships have, or will have, the technicians and diagnostic equipment capable of safely undertaking a repair.

Our View

This could present the concern that a repair undertaken by an independent repairer needs to be fully verified and details of the repair undertaken should form part of the vehicles service history, providing vital data for future repairs which could relate to safety systems.

We have considered the safety of battery packs on vehicles in previous insight.

How is the repair industry upskilling to meet this challenge?

Technicians are being retrained and are receiving accreditations to work on EVs as specialists however accreditation can take 9 to 12 months to obtain.

Does this mean there could be a skills shortage in the repair of EVs?

It’s possible but there are processes in place and skill levels should be in place to meet demand.

Our View

Manufacturers are investing in training and the independent vehicle repair sector will also need to invest similarly.

In general, do EVs take longer to repair than ICE vehicles?

Currently for general planned maintenance no, but for unplanned maintenance or accident damage, yes due to:

  • the need to ensure the vehicle is safe prior to work commencing and following completion;
  • the time taken to ensure that all systems are properly calibrated, software is up to date and systems are properly communicating, following a repair;
  • potentially the availability of spare parts but this could be an issue with ICE vehicles, it depends on the damage and the rectification work needed.

Additionally, it is quite likely that a vehicle presented for a minor repair may require updates to software to be installed and tested as updates to vehicle software are also becoming available at a high rate.

Our View

Presently some vehicle manufacturers are challenged in this area resulting in additional time and cost to transfer vehicles to appropriate facilities which in themselves are running at capacity resulting in a longer wait for work to commence on a given vehicle thus increasing the period of unavailability of the vehicle and subsequently increases in vehicle hire costs.

Can minor repairs to an EV be undertaken as quickly as with an ICE vehicle?

The time needed to undertake minor repairs regardless of vehicle type is increasing due to the checks that have to be undertaken. Fault finding and diagnostics can be prolonged due to the greater number of tests and complexities of systems on a modern vehicle.

Our View

The days of quickly visiting a repairer and having a defect rectified whilst the driver waits may now not be possible as in every case the vehicle will need to be hooked up to a diagnostic system.

This could result in more vehicles being needed in a fleet to cover operations. It is unlikely that manufacturers’ representatives will have more curtesy vehicles available.

Will there be an issue in the future with EV vehicle salvaging?

Dealerships again by virtue of the volume of EVs seen to date, currently have limited experience of this, but their perception is yes as the salvage industry associated with battery packs is currently evolving.

Our View

At some point in the life of the vehicle this additional cost will need to be recovered, possibly seen as a factor affecting the residual value of the vehicle.

Have repairers experienced any unexpected issues with the repair of EVs?

Some issues have been experienced with corrosion of components causing unexpected data being presented to control systems requiring prolonged diagnosis.

Problems have also been experienced when unauthorised repairs such as windscreen replacements have been undertaken which can present issues with sensing systems.

Our View

The importance of verification of calibration of ADAS systems was covered in our previous paper.

Conclusion

There are still some unknowns in the operation of EVs particularly if major repairs are undertaken and we conclude the following:

  • If an EV is involved in a road traffic incident, the repair is likely to take longer than an ICE vehicle.
  • The cost of the repair for an EV is likely to be higher due to the additional labour content associated with testing and verifying systems to ensure electrical safety to both the repairer and the end user.
  • Additional costs of repair may make EVs more uneconomic to repair and therefore more likely to be categorised as a total loss, resulting in increased salvage costs, thus potentially affecting insurance premiums.

Therefore, operators of EVs will need to consider if

  • Their fleets need to carry some additional capacity or have the ability to quickly obtain vehicle cover for the longer periods of time EVs will be off the road during repairs.
  • For vehicles repaired, their processes have document systems that will capture vehicle history data including documentation of tests undertaken on the recommissioning of safety systems.
  • Whole life costs calculations for EVs are appropriate. Data from vehicles used in the light commercial and company car sector is currently limited.
  • Residual vehicle values for high mileage EVs are appropriate. These will be determined by several factors including:
    • the uptake of use of EVs in the second user sector;
    • the attractiveness of leasing and personal contract plans on new EVs;
    • the perception relating to the potentially reduced capacity of an EV battery system and the implications;
    • the availability of accurate vehicle servicing and repair records.

When considering the introduction EVs into a fleet, Willis Towers Watson can provide risk support - please contact your account owner or Andrew Millinship for more information.

Author

Risk Management Executive - Transport Risk Management

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