Piston Slap: Will EVs Bankrupt Mechanics, Dealerships?

Image: Lucid Motors

Marc writes:

Hi. Long-time reader, and have had a past question answered. With all the hype surrounding electrification, there is one aspect I see little discussion about — the impact on the service and parts business. If the majority of profits at a dealership comes from service and parts, what is the impact of no oil changes, etc, and the myriad of ICE parts that electric vehicles don’t have? Jiffy Lube, Aamco, Midas, all done.

The economic implications are huge. Your thoughts?

Sajeev answers:

This is where I give the standard speech that my full time corporate gig is in the auto retailing side of things, so you outta take my thoughts with a grain of salt.

Anyway, let’s be realistic about maintenance and repairs on EVs. While the likes of specialty places like Jiffy Lube shall see a contraction (or an unlikely death), Auto Dealerships/Repair shops don’t make a living on oil changes. Considering the number of $29.99/$19.99/$9.99 oil change coupons I see floating around online and in direct mail pieces, the game here is to get cars in the service bays to look for problems (via free multi-point inspection) while the oil drains out/tires get rotated.

Taking a scope to the brake calipers (measuring pad thickness), checking for play in suspension bits, looking for leaks, etc, is where you make the profits that keep the lights on. This will not change if/when EVs dominate the market, because most EVs possess cooling systems that are complicated works of art and require periodic attention. From the Tesla forums, the Model S recommends annual servicing to the tune of $600, though commentator Rocky_H notes, “the (required) 2 year service is $700 and the 4 year service is $900, and then the cycle repeats.” That post has another gem from dd.micsol:

“This is very high maint costs if you think about it. If you get a new ICE you won’t do anything but oil changes for the first 3 yrs. So about 5 oil changes or about 150 bucks.”

He’s got a point, irrelevant if people actually embraced the low maintenance, air-cooled Nissan Leaf. But nobody(ish) in North America wants a practical EV, so forget it! On to the next point: suspension wear.

Electric cars are oh-so-heavy, often run on big wheels with low profile tires, and our infrastructure is generally crummy and motorists rarely avoid every bump in the road.  Peep these curb weights:

  • 2020 Nissan Leaf: 3,538 – 3,946 lbs
  • 2020 Chevy Bolt: 3,563 lbs
  • 2020 Nissan Sentra: 3,045 – 3,084 lbs
  • 2020 Audi E-Tron: 5,754 lbs
  • 2020 Porsche Taycan: 4,777 to 5,132 lbs
  • 2020 Tesla Model S: 4,883 to 4,941 lbs
  • 2020 Mercedes S-class: 4,553 to 5,296 lbs
  • 2011 Lincoln Town Car: 4,352 to 4,467 lbs 

You’d be forgiven for thinking the Town Car’s high center of gravity (among other things) make it feel much heavier than a Model S. It’s a safe bet that inertia-laden Teslas have more R&D money invested in a (relatively) featherweight suspension with low amounts of unsprung weight. Both the Model S and 3 handle so amazingly well for their sizes, they must have a light suspension relative to their gross vehicle weight rating (which is nearly 6,000 lbs)!

Because you can’t have a tough suspension that handles like a race car…you gotta pick one!

Since Tesla is leading the charge (sorry) on North American electrification, odds are they know the truth about suspension design for an electrified chassis. We will never know their truth, but it’s fair to note Tesla’s history of denying suspension problems when customers drive their luxury barges on bad roads, break stuff, and sometimes make owners sign confidentiality agreements. If it allegedly happened to a Hollywood star, it can theoretically happen to anyone, right?

What’s the point? Once more automakers/people get on the EV bandwagon, more data will likely show that EVs need mechanical attention in the aforementioned ways, and many shall be pricey. So mechanics and dealerships shall still win, because the multi-point inspection shall save some bacon.

[Image: Lucid Motors]

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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