Joshua Mellor was looking to start a business about five years ago. He said fixing cars was one of the last things he wanted to do.
But he noticed sales in hybrids had gone up and realized warrantees would soon expire, opening the market for shops with certification to fix the vehicles due to an expected demand.
Today, Mellor, of Melbourne, Florida, runs what he says is one of the busiest shops in the state. Going through training and investing in the tools required to fix hybrids were an investment that’s paid for itself.
“There is not really anybody in our area who is doing our kind of work,” he said. “It’s not uncommon to see customers towed across the state to get to us.”
(All Data Sources: Electric Drive Transportation Association)
Hybrid sales have nearly doubled in a two-year span, nearly doubling to half a million, according to the Electric Drive Transportation Association, a clean energy advocate. As more hybrid models enter the market and dealership coverage expires, mechanics who want to stay competitive will have the ability to thrive if they’re certified to fix the high-voltage cars.
While hybrids command only a small share of the market, the cars have become more popular in the United States – implying that they’re here to stay. The vehicles’ growing prominence reflects the rise of ever-changing technology mechanics have had to learn over the last 30 years to stay in business.
“There will be some point in the next decade when the average shop says, ‘I have to do this,’” said Chris Van Batenburg, who teaches and certifies mechanics like Mellor in hybrid repair.
The number of mechanics in the United States is growing, passing 700,000 in the workforce, according to a 2012 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That number is expected to increase by 60,000 over the next eight years, specifically in the maintenance and repair fields. Technicians with up-to-date training, the report said, will have an advantage finding work especially at dealerships and independent shops.
Dealership mechanics make up 264,200 of those jobs nationwide, according to the Greater New York Automobile Dealership Association, and in New York City they can make an annual salary of $100,000. That’s in part due to the specialized training they receive from schools and dealerships.
The group’s training center, split with the auto school Lincoln Tech, graduates about 700 students a year, because as spokesman Chris Sams says, there’s “a shortage of qualified automotive technicians out there.”
Normally, mechanics will go through auto school, Sams said, and received brand-specific training from dealerships.
Lincoln Tech has already begun phasing in some hybrid training to their students, said John Vass, a graduate who now works as a salesman at Bayside Volkswagen in Queens.
In his time at the school, he wore the rubber-and-leather gloves required to deal with the voltage that keeps hybrids running, but never went through extensive certification.
And though Vass has since moved to the sales side, he said anyone entering the repair sector should seek out certification when the technology is relatively fresh to become more competitive in the job market.
“It’s worth it now because you’re learning the technology while it’s still new,” he said. “There’s going to be a market for it later on in life.”
In areas outside of New York, however, where shops are more spread out, Van Batenburg, who has taught hybrid repairs for almost 15 years, said independent shops might become the “specialist” for a region, like in Mellor’s case.
“The guy who likes it will deal with it,” he said of mechanics opting for hybrid training. “No one will bother with them.”
That could become clearer in the years to come with more alternative fuel vehicles entering the market and replace traditional combustion engines. Hybrid, plug-in and battery cars have entered the market and are now battling to see which could potentially replace gasoline cars in the years ahead.
Some of the more seasoned mechanics have been hesitant toward learning new ways to fix cars. But Mellor said if they want to stay in business, investing in certification classes and the tools to fix hybrids will keep them in business down the line.
“There’s some time investment and some costs and getting some tools in place,” he said. But unless mechanics act now, “It’s going to be a scramble. It’s something you can’t do half way. You have to commit to learn about it.”