By Jacques Gordon, Editor, MACS ACtion magazine
The first hybrid vehicle to market was the 1999 Honda Insight, followed soon after by the Toyota Prius. Each employs different technologies; Honda converted the engine’s flywheel to a motor/generator, while Toyota designed a whole new powertrain with a single planetary-gear set to split torque amongst two motor/generators and a piston engine. Later, GM, BMW and Chrysler jointly developed the “two-mode” hybrid transmission that looks like a regular RWD automatic, except the case contains two electric motors and a battery pack. More recently, Chevrolet brought the first “extended-range electric vehicle” to market. With plug-in charging, the Volt runs almost entirely on electric power. The engine is used primarily to turn a generator, but it supplies up to 15% motive power under specific conditions.
Even with all these advances, the hybrid market seems to have stalled. While gas prices and other factors drove the market to a total of about 3% by 2008, several different sources report that’s where it remains today. Maybe that’s OK for Toyota who, according to the National Auto Dealers Association (NADA), sold about 164,000 hybrids last year (Toyota and Lexus combined). But BMW sold only 545. Unless something happens to boost the market, it seems awfully hard to justify BMW’s investment in hybrid technology.
So it’s a tiny market, but guess what? Over the past decade almost 2.6 million hybrid vehicles of all types have been sold in the U.S., and most of them are still on the road. If a regular customer shows up at your shop tomorrow with a hybrid and asks for an oil change, are you ready to handle the job, or will you turn them away? With just a few additional tools and some good basic training, it can be easy to justify your investment because you’ll be able to do the most common jobs on almost any hybrid vehicle. That includes air conditioning service, and the A/C system is critical to the operation of most hybrid models.
So let us know now: are you servicing hybrid vehicles today, and if so, what kind of services are you providing?
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