Currently reading: How EVs could affect dealers' service department business models
With better reliability and simplified mechanicals, EVs offer cheaper servicing. But what does that mean for retailers?

Concerns are growing among motor dealers that the reduced servicing and maintenance requirements of electric cars, plus the high cost of training and equipping technicians, will affect the profitability of workshops and diminish the aftersales experience for customers.

Evidence from leading fleet companies suggests that due to their simplified mechanicals, lightly used braking systems and higher levels of reliability, the service, maintenance and repair (SMR) costs of EVs are around half those of petrol and diesel vehicles.

In addition, most electric cars have longer service intervals while some, such as certain Audis, have no mileage limitation during each two-year scheduled service period.

Manufacturers make maintenance savings a key part of their electric car offer to customers. Nissan, for example, claims owners can cut their costs by 40% compared with an ICE vehicle. Explaining the savings on its website, it tells customers, 'No more oil changes and no tailpipe emissions, means no more emissions tests.'

The savings are highlighted in its service plan with monthly instalments for a Nissan Leaf being £13.99 compared with £19.99 for a petrol model and £23.99 for a diesel.

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Concerned by EVs' reduced servicing requirements and the consequences for aftersales revenue, the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA) has established an aftersales working group study to monitor changes within its members' aftersales departments. It plans to publish its findings later this year.

Sue Robinson, chief executive of the NFDA, said, "It has been widely reported that aftersales revenue in franchised dealerships is likely to reduce as more consumers switch to EVs.

There are a number of practical reasons to consider: electric vehicles have fewer moving parts, brakes tend to be replaced less frequently due to regenerative braking, service intervals are usually longer and there are fewer billable hours.

It is important to note that despite the diminishing returns, retailers are still required to make large investments into staff EV training, tools, extra EV charge points and EV courtesy vehicles."

The association paints a gloomy picture but some automotive experts believe the shift to electric could be a catalyst for positive change, with dealers being forced to cultivate longer term relationships with their customers and their cars in order to retain servicing work previously lost to the independent sector.

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"The value chain, including the value added by sales, parts and servicing, doesn't work the same way as it does for ICE vehicles, so OEs must look at an EV's lifetime value," says Professor Jim Sakar, president of the IMI. "The way to make money from servicing and maintaining EVs will be to keep cars in the franchise longer than the present 1.5 cycles.

Keep the vehicles in their system, grow the volume and they have a business. I believe this requirement to keep vehicles for longer is why car makers are pushing subscriptions and personal contract hire on EVs to capture servicing and why OEs will be more prepared to finance older EVs, which in turn will transform the used EV sector."

For the moment, while EV numbers build, the challenges facing workshops are not so acute. Hybrids are a useful bridge that should give them time to evolve and adapt. Even so, the pressures are building.

"It takes three EVs to replace the revenue generated by one ICE vehicle," says Mike Jones, an automotive consultant who works with OEs.

He agrees with Sakar that to restore lost revenue, dealers will have to keep hold of vehicles for longer and certainly beyond their three-year warranty, traditionally the time cars begin to drop out of the network.

However, he also sees scope for revenue generation in the tyre market, hitherto a sector not usually associated with car dealers.

"Thanks to EVs' higher weight and stronger acceleration, their tyres wear faster than those for ICE vehicles. Traditionally, dealers have been poor at selling tyres but now they need to consider developing this side of their business because they could represent a significant profit opportunity."

Manufacturers say the issue of EV tyre wear is actually more complex. Continental, for example, claims that while compared with an ICE vehicle a two-wheel-drive EV can reduce tyre mileage by up to 25%, on EVs with four-wheel drive it says tyres can last up to 10% longer.

Nokian Tyres goes further and says that supported by traction control systems, an electric motor's ability to adjust its power faster than a conventional engine ensures tyres last longer than those fitted to ICE vehicles regardless of drive layout.

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Away from the arguments over tyre life, the NFDA draws comfort from the fact that while an EV's servicing requirements may be less than for ICE vehicles, some of the work, especially as the vehicle ages, could become increasingly complex, opening the way, it says, to higher servicing costs and increased profits in the future. And it is workshop profits, says Sue Robinson, that help provide the comfortable environments customers have become used to. Without them, all that could change.

"Franchised dealers have historically been able to provide a number of extra services to their customers including waiting areas, hot drinks, courtesy cars, free EV charging points (in many instances) and often free cleans or mini-valets. However, the reduced labour sales around EVs will also impact their profitability and threaten the viability of providing such services in the future."

No coffee? At least most EV owners won't have to experience that deprivation more than once every couple of years.

How to increase servicing revenue

If deepening the relationship with their customers and keeping their cars for longer within the franchise is one way dealers can increase their EV servicing revenue, then locking those customers into service plans could be the way to do it.

These tie a customer into a service agreement that they fund monthly by easy installments, so avoiding the pain of paying a lump sum each year (or two years in the case of many EVs) and, for the aftersales department, the risk of them shopping around for a cheaper alternative.

Meanwhile, for the dealer they offer the possibility of remaining in contact with the customer and selling them a replacement vehicle rather than losing them to another franchise.

Service plans are big business. EMAC, one of the sector's most successful, boasts 16 OEs on its books plus many large dealer groups. It claims to have 1.8 million live contracts and says that in 2020 its plans, which it bundles under the label Ownercare, helped create over £250 million of [ital]potential[ital] revenue for its dealer partners.

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Meanwhile, similar customer capture and retention schemes have caught the eye of major OEMs, Jaguar Land Rover and Porsche.

Their venture capital arms have recently invested £8.8 million in Bumper, the British company formerly known as Auto Service Finance.

Founded in 2013 and already one of Europe's fastest growing companies by 2021, Bumper enables motorists to spread the costs of servicing and repairs typically over nine months, interest free.

The work is performed by garages who have signed up to Bumper's scheme. Porsche was inspired to invest by sister company Volkswagen, whose dealers have experience of the company.

EV vs ICE service intervals and quoted workshop prices (incl VAT)

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Add a comment…
xxxx 23 February 2022

I'd be interested to see what VW actually do for their £200.

Strider 23 February 2022

"I believe this requirement to keep vehicles for longer is why car makers are pushing subscriptions and personal contract hire on EVs to capture servicing"

Only partly, and less so as the digital customer journey reduces the need for local dealers. Other reasons include concern over residual values linked to insufficient data on aging batteries, particularly those subject to regular fast charging, and a move to generating revenue through additional services, largely from the cloud, that can be bundled into one agreement and upsold through that customer relationship. Ref Carlos Tavares' excellent press conference at CES.


Scribbler 23 February 2022

In recent years, franchise dealers have generally made much more money from parts and servicing than from new car sales because retail margins from new car sales are low. It's fair to say that most consumers begrudge paying big service and repair bills, so they won't mind lower maintenance costs with EVs.

However, as mentioned in the article, it is more likely that EVs will have much higher average repair bills whern they do go wrong, so swings and rounabouts for both EV owners and garages.

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