In the coming age of electric cars, whither the ‘motor mac’?

We recently heard how the electric car could ultimately change the way many of South Africa’s big service stations operate.

Longer waiting times to charge up our electric motors, for instance, should see the big Ultra City-type stopovers become even more like shopping malls so that drivers and passengers can maximise their time. Even business centres where people can work remotely for a little while are on the cards.

The evolution will be slow here

Certainly, this is not Europe and the change to vehicles using electric power will be slow. But it will be steady. Remember how we lagged behind so much of the world in phasing out leaded petrol because we still had so many older vehicles on the road?

In 2006 it happened anyway. Because the auto industry, being global in nature, cannot afford to keep serving isolated pockets that are out of step with the technological needs of most of the world.

Those countries that don’t join the party of their own volition are dragged along kicking and screaming anyway.

So it is with electric cars. This year the South African Car of the Year competition organised by the Guild of Motoring Journalists was won by an electric-powered car, the Jaguar I-Pace. The all-electric Porsche Taycan is coming to SA in the next year or so. Ferrari will have an electric car in the next five years or so. Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Nissan and others have entry-level (i.e. cheaper) models lined up.

Find out more about the Porsche Taycan’s performance potential here:

Whither SA’s legion of motor macs?

So where does that leave your son or daughter who wants to become a motor mechanic? Is there a future for them, or will they become the equivalent of a typewriter technician in the age of the laptop?

This week the local the Motor Industry Workshop Association attempted to answer that question.

No, says Pieter Niemand, national director of the association, this doesn’t mean that the need for skilled artisans in the motor trade will disappear altogether.

Technicians need a new skills set

“True, electronic cars are set to become a more common feature on our roads in the next 10 years or so,” he notes.

“But the reality is that, with vehicles becoming increasingly more complex, workshop technicians (mechanics) will not only have to be able to work on brakes, suspension and the like, but also have the necessary tech skills to manage high-tech cars which are literally becoming like a computer on wheels.”

He believes there is no doubt the motor industry has much to offer enthusiastic young, bright people eager to learn and wanting to make money.

Niemand says that as technology becomes ever more advanced it’s the responsibility of employers and employees alike to ensure that they remain abreast of the latest developments. As much as a third of the training curriculum for mechanics has been updated already, and it’s vital that mechanics are familiar with these changes.

“The good news is that opportunities for such upskilling abound,” he states.

Diesel mechanics will remain in demand

And even when electric-powered passenger vehicles become common in South Africa, there will still be demand for diesel mechanics who can service and repair trucks, tractors, marine engines and other heavy-duty engines operating in sectors such as mining and manufacturing.

“The medium and heavy vehicle space will certainly remain in need of mechanics’ skills, as the long distances undertaken by these vehicles mean that there is always a great need for repair and maintenance work. Added to this, the lifespan of such vehicles is significantly longer than their lighter counterparts,” Niemand says.

“Also important to bear in mind is the cost factor, which makes electronic technology out of reach for many South Africans. It may therefore be more prudent to focus on the soft hybrid market, and for mechanics to upskill themselves with these vehicles in mind.”

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