Electric vehicles (EV) account for just six of every 1,000 new cars and trucks sold in the U.S. But it won't stay that way much longer: In 2017, hardly a month passed without a major global auto maker announcing plans to boost its production of EVs.
If the factories follow through, the number of nameplates of battery-powered vehicles in the U.S. will increase from 14 this year to 85 by 2025, according to WardsAuto. And by 2030, depending on the projection, battery electric vehicles will represent anywhere from 10 percent to half of new-vehicle sales.
The potential for EVs to alter the service business model of franchised new-vehicle dealerships is huge. Experts say everything in the back of the store — vehicle repair, parts, body shops, service customer retention — will be disrupted if the coming armada of electric vehicles, which require less maintenance than traditional cars and trucks, sells in high volume.
And the time for dealers and fixed operations managers to start preparing for that basic change, industry executives warn, is now.
"With EVs, there will be less dollars available to the dealer," says Wally Burchfield, vice president of U.S. aftersales for Nissan North America.
Service revenue from regular maintenance of wear items on EVs would amount to "probably two-thirds to three-quarters of what an internal-combustion engine vehicle would be," Mr. Burchfield told Fixed Ops Journal.
Nissan isn't the only manufacturer to prepare for the changes that electric vehicles will bring. Volkswagen says it is talking to its dealers worldwide about how to keep them profitable as the auto maker ramps up its production of EVs.
How will these changes affect operations in dealership service departments?
Required service will be greatly reduced for electric vehicles: no oil and filter to change, no fluids in the radiator to check or flush, no transmission to service, no drive belts to replace, no air or fuel filters or spark plugs to change, and regenerative braking systems indefinitely extending the life of brake pads and rotors.
This year, the consulting firm UBS Research tore down two similar-sized hatchbacks, a Chevrolet Bolt and a VW Golf. UBS counted 24 moving parts in the Bolt, compared with 149 in the Golf.
UBS analysts estimate that aftersales revenue for the Bolt, for such things as replacement parts, will be 60 percent less — about $400 a year — than such revenue for a traditional car.
"This should generate a major challenge for dealerships, which typically generate 40 percent of their gross profit in service and maintenance," UBS says. The UBS report is available at autonews.com/ubsreport.
Nissan's experience similarly foreshadows how EVs are likely to change service departments when electric vehicles sell in high volume.
Since 2010, Nissan has sold 300,000 Leafs worldwide, including more than 113,000 in the United States.
"You will certainly lose your oil and filter" work, Mr. Burchfield says. "You won't have the mechanical breakdowns of an internal-combustion engine. We don't know yet how much we will do in battery repair and module replacements."
Less shop revenue
The maintenance sections of the owner's manuals for the Nissan Altima and Leaf illustrate how service department revenue takes a hit from electric cars.
Nissan recommends at least two oil and filter changes each year for the 2017 Altima, regardless of miles driven. These two services cost about $80 at most Nissan dealerships.