How auto service companies are preparing for the electric vehicle revolution
The auto industry’s burgeoning transition to electric vehicles poses new challenges to auto service centers, as higher hybrid and EV adoption rates require companies to understand and manage new hardware.
Above: A look at electric cars from Tesla being serviced (Source: Tesla)
One such service company is Bridgestone Americas, which owns roughly 2,200 tire and vehicle service centers across the U.S, as detailed in a report last month from Forbes.
As electric motors and battery cell-operated motors become more common, Bridgestone’s service and tire centers require new equipment and updated training for technicians.
While current EV sales volume is still fairly low for the U.S. auto market, Bridgestone Retail Operations President Marko Ibrahim says the company is already making moves to be ready for the expected transition to electric and hybrid models in the years ahead.
“We don’t wait until demand is set, because then we’re behind,” Ibrahim said. “We try to anticipate where the puck is going, and we try to get there first.”
The U.S. auto market only had 24 different EVs available in 2020, that number is expected to increase to 153 by 2025, according to General Motors (GM) Chief Economist Elaine Buckberg in a recent web conference hosted by the Society of Automotive Analysts.
Bridgestone is currently expanding EV services to 44 locations in both Austin, Texas and San Francisco, California, giving technicians the tools to work with high-voltage motors and battery-powered engines.
Above: A look at the top 5 checklist for electric car maintenance to keep your EV up-and-running without issues (YouTube: Roadshow)
Bridgestone is also partnering with Blink Charging to establish 50 Level 2 charging stations across 25 Firestone Complete Auto Care and Wheel Works locations in the U.S. The chargers will deploy early this year at stores in Austin, Denver, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
With charging stations at Bridgestone’s service centers, the company’s technicians will also need additional training to maintain the charging hardware.
Prior to the current expansion, Ibrahim says the company was already operating a pilot program to offer added technician training for high-voltage vehicles and chargers, which spanned 15 Bridgestone locations around Austin.
“Four years ago, we started our journey on this,” Ibrahim said.
The company owns service center brands including Firestone Complete Auto Care, Wheel Works, Tires Plus and Hibdon Tires Plus, and Ibrahim says the company serviced over 400,000 electric vehicles and hybrids last year.
Legacy automakers like GM and Ford are currently slower to electrification in both service offerings and charging than Tesla, which only sells EVs and also has its own service centers dedicated to fixing its customers’ vehicles.
Tesla also features its own network of charging stations, Superchargers, while traditional automakers are largely partnering with third-party charging companies to extend charging infrastructure — not unlike Bridgestone.
With experts pointing to Tesla’s vertical integration as part of the reason the company succeeded throughout 2021 amidst an overall downturn of the auto industry, it begs the question: How will traditional auto companies weather the service needs of a major shift to electric vehicles in the years to come?