What will EVs, over-the-air fixes mean for dealership service departments?

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Longer term, questions remain about how the influx of electric vehicles will affect business at dealership service departments.

EVs generally have fewer moving parts than internal combustion vehicles and don’t require oil changes and related service work. And dealerships will be required to invest in new tooling, equipment and training to prepare technicians to service them.

Some automakers, too, have signaled interest in over-the-air repairs, which can send software updates to vehicles to address safety fixes without customers needing to come to a service department.

Yet some dealers say they see upside for their fixed operations in the future.

The added complexity on vehicles, such as screens and other electronic components, may present opportunities for franchised dealerships to attract and retain more service business in the future, said Patrick Manzi, chief economist for the National Automobile Dealers Association.

NADA has said franchised dealers are “all in” when it comes to selling EVs.

As vehicles become more complex, “I think it is good news for the average dealer out there, because they’re going to be the ones who are most qualified to service it,” Manzi told Automotive News.

With EVs, “they’re also going to be the ones investing in the tools and the technicians that are most qualified to service those vehicles,” Manzi said.

“And so they’re going to have a bit of advantage — at least here in the short and medium term — with respect to servicing those, at least until the independent industry is able to develop the skills among their own technicians,” he said.

Brian Godfrey, president of Pat Milliken Ford near Detroit, said “the big question mark” long term primarily is electrification and the impact battery-powered vehicles will have on service departments.

Some consumers who currently take their vehicles to independent repair shops after their warranty periods expire might instead stay with a dealership because of the additional complexity that electric vehicles bring, Godfrey said.

“I’m not as concerned about the long term as perhaps some might be,” he said. “I think we’ll see a lot of change, but I think we’ll have a lot of opportunity coming with that.”

Adam Simms, CEO of Price Simms Family Dealerships in the San Francisco Bay Area, said California is further ahead in the electric transition. His group is working to train employees, upgrade electrical systems and otherwise support the charging demand for electric vehicles.

“That’s certainly been keeping us very busy,” Simms said.

Dealerships know they need to invest in their service department because it is the department that keeps the lights on, said Skyler Chadwick, director of product consulting at Xtime, part of Cox Automotive.

“No matter how far we look down the future, advisers [and] technicians will still be servicing cars,” Chadwick said, adding that the way they go about that business will be different.

“I’m not scared of the future,” he said. “If you haven’t invested in your parts and service, now is the time.”