Automotive students are driven to electric vehicles

JJC Automotive Service Technology students are excited about the nation’s transition from manufacturing gasoline- powered vehicles to electric cars and trucks. They know this new electric technology will drive massive changes in their automotive training.

Automotive students, like Tyler Lehnertz, know they will have to quickly learn a brand new set of skills in order to service the anticipated onslaught of hybrid and fully electric vehicles about to flood the new car market.

“Definitely different training, very unique training, brand new technology, but learning about the new technology is really cool,” Lehnertz said.

U.S. automotive companies are under intense political pressure in their transition from gasoline- powered vehicles with internal combustion engines towards retooling their manufacturing capabilities to meet the demands of an ever greener economy.

GM plans to eliminate making all internal combustion engines and produce only electric vehicles by the year 2035. GM, along with Ford and Volkswagen, plan to spend a combined $77 billion developing electric vehicles over the next five years.

“Our training here at JJC is a really good opportunity to get our foot in the door, you need to get used to the future or get left out,” Conner Houston, automotive student, said.

JJC automotive technology professor Curt Ward is quickly adapting to the changes he knows his department needs to train students in the new electric vehicle technology.

Ward knows he has to keep his foot on the pedal in order to quickly transition to training his students on the new technology.

Of the 14.6 million new cars sold every year in the U.S., last year only about 260 thousand were fully electric. But by 2023, electric vehicle sales could jump to one million.

JJC is developing partnerships with major automotive manufacturers and local car dealerships to offer the school their expertise, including donations of electric vehicles for students to train on. Houston especially likes the job security that automotive technology brings.

“My industry is recession proof, one reason I choose automotive service technology is because vehicles are recession proof, people will always need their vehicles worked on,” Houston said.

“We are training their future employees so they have a vested interest in our program,” Ward said. “Students trained on electric vehicles could be paid up to 20% above the industry average.”

Ward says many automotive skills are easily transferable to the new electric vehicles such as servicing tires, suspensions, and brakes. But left behind will be fuel injectors, pistons, and mufflers.

The big change for students will be learning how to service the drive train powered by an engine composed of a 300 volt battery.

Instructors here stress safety since servicing a car engine battery that powerful the wrong way can be deadly.

Automotive student Daniel Mejia-Perez knows he has his work cut out for him in order to become a certified technician.

“Internal combustion engines are more mechanical, electric vehicles will be more electrical, I’m up for the challenge, there is always something to learn in automotive technology,” Mejia-Perez said.

Ward says students will initially see a steep learning curve with electric vehicles. With gasoline powered vehicles, there is so-called legacy learning, where technicians continually learn the newest technology as time goes on. But with learning brand new electric technology, students here will have to learn totally from scratch.

In order to make sure his 110 students get trained on the next generation of electric vehicles, Ward knows his automotive department has two main obstacles to overcome.

First, academia is sometimes slow to change, so school administrators may take some convincing to get on board.

Second, retooling his multi-million dollar automotive department could run into the tens of millions of dollars. So JJC may have to look towards public financing such as with a local bond offering.

JJC has already started educating future technicians with new course offerings and a Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Specialist Certificate.

Mejia-Perez is excited about his future with one day possibly working for a major automotive manufacturer.

“It will be unbelievable if in the future we look back 50 years on how we made history – we are now history in the making,” Mejia-Perez said.