Switching to hybrids and electric vehicles means changes for every aspect of the automotive economy, like auto service and parts, and how we get our vehicles serviced.
For service centers, the changes include new equipment, to work on electric motors and high-voltage batteries, charging stations at service centers, and training for the technicians who work on them – all while sales volume is still small, for now, for strictly battery powered electric vehicles.
“We don’t wait until demand is set, because then we’re behind,” said Marko Ibrahim, president of Bridgestone Retail Operations. “We try to anticipate where the puck is going, and we try to get there first.”
Nashville-based Bridgestone Americas owns around 2,200 tire and vehicle service centers in the U.S. market, under the brand names Firestone Complete Auto Care, Wheel Works, Tires Plus, and Hibdon Tires Plus.
The company recently announced that in partnership with Blink Charging, it would install a total of 50 Level 2 plug-in electric vehicle charging stations at 25 Firestone Complete Auto Care and Wheel Works stores in Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Austin, Texas, starting early this year.
Separately, new-car dealerships are also upgrading their service and parts facilities, to prepare for more electric vehicles.
The U.S. auto industry expects 153 EVs on the market by 2025, up from 24 in 2020, according to Elaine Buckberg, General Motors chief economist, in a recent webinar hosted by the Detroit-based Society of Automotive Analysts.
Meanwhile, Bridgestone is also upgrading its EV service capabilities at 44 locations in San Francisco and Austin, so they can do more work on the type of high-voltage systems in use in battery-powered electric vehicles.
Bridgestone Retail Operations has long been equipped to work on lower-voltage gasoline-electric hybrids. “We serviced 400,000 electrified vehicles and hybrids in 2021,” Ibrahim said in a recent phone interview.
Before the latest expansion, the company ran a pilot program for technician training and work on high-voltage systems, at 15 locations in the Austin metro area, Ibrahim said. “Four years ago, we started our journey on this,” he said.