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Future Cars In the Garage 5 - Technical Training
FutureCars in the Garage pg 5 - Technical Training and Conclusion
Through this series on the maintenance issues on FutureCar technology, we've looked at the various types of future vehicle power trains and how they'll likely be handled by maintenance personnel. The issues and requirements of each type of vehicle have both specific needs as well as needs that overlap with several other technologies.
Battery electric vehicles, for instance, are very similar in operation to plug-in hybrids (PHEV) and fuel-cell electrics (FCV) and thus could be maintained by the same garage. Similarly, diesel vehicles have much in common with diesel alternatives and gasoline vehicles have a lot in common with natural gas-powered vehicles as well.
A new question arises, however. Where will the repair technicians of the future be trained and how?
Colleges and Universities
The technicians and engineers who work directly with automakers and their suppliers will be (and currently are), for the most part, university trained. One of the fastest-growing and in-demand fields of study right now and for the foreseeable future is Mechatronics.
This is a hybridized type of engineer's training that combines both electrical and mechanical engineering into one field. Often, in today's academics, mechatronics-trained people are either electrical engineers with an emphasis on mechanics or mechanical engineers with an emphasis on electrical. In the future, it may become a field of study all its own.
The current demand for Mechatronics Engineers (ME) is so high, in fact, that Communication's V.P. Robert Last of FEV says that "internally, organizations are trying to protect that talent [MEs] as much as they can." This means high pay and excellent working conditions.
Other emphasis, of course, will be on specialists in various fields of study related to alt-fuels. These would include chemists, designers, and so forth.
One of the few universities currently emphasizing FutureCars skills is University of Detroit Mercy (UDM). Dean of Engineering Dr. Leo E. Hanifin says that UDM has three new programs emphasizing electric propulsion engineering: a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Electric Transportation Technology, a Master's of Science (MS) in Electric-Drive Vehicle Engineering, and a graduate program in Electric-Drive Engineering. UDM has also created a re-certification program for current engineers who wish to gain an emphasis on electric vehicle tech. Both programs were created in partnership with Ford, who will take advantage of the certifications to re-train many of their own designers and engineers.
Trade Schools and Certifications
Much of the tumult and change in the future of automotive will take place in the trade and technical schools that train and certify the technicians and mechanics who will service our vehicles directly. The current focus on various forms of internal combustion engines (ICE) will shift dramatically as alt-fuel vehicles become more and more common.
Most mechanics in today's market are ASE certified (Automotive Service Excellence) and received their certification through an accredited school of ASE's National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF). Currently, courses in certification for natural gas (CNG/LPG/propane) are offered, but no certification for electric vehicles is yet available.
Many high school programs are including drive train electrical conversions and racing experience. A Texas high school converted a farm tractor to electric operation, the West Philadelphia High School is involved in the Automotive X-Prize competition, and students from the Mater Dei High School in Indiana have won high-speed races in alt-fuel cars.
As these students begin graduating and entering technical colleges, it's likely that new programs to cater to the alt-fuel automotive industry will also begin appearing to accommodate their emphasis.
Where Trade Schools Find Experts
Most trade schools, traditionally, receive their continual updates for instructors from auto manufacturers themselves. Every large automaker has a certification, training, and updating program for these instructors who then teach the information to their students.
The Universal Technical Institute, based in Phoenix, Arizona and with campuses nationally, has manufacturer-specific certifications from many automakers such as BMW, Nissan, Volvo and others. ""We work closely with manufacturers to keep our instructors updated and our students empowered with the latest information," says UTI instructor Quin Vahldick.
The Future of Automotive Repair and Maintenance is Now
In the near future, a lot of changes are going to continue happening in the automotive industry. As major manufacturers roll out new technologies such as plug-in and all-electric cars, hybrids, hydrogen vehicles, and more, the repair and maintenance industry will scramble to keep up.
Today's garage tinkerer and home conversion mechanics will be tomorrow's consultants and engineers for mainstream automotive technology. We will see the more adventurous garage mechanics of today stepping into the automotive future by learning on their own and through newly-created certification programs.
The future is coming fast and it won't be long before today's Joe's Garage will become tomorrow's center for technology and innovation.
Other Articles in This Series
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