Riding the hybrid and EV wave
Bellevue, Wash.—Long before hybrids were as popular as they are today, Eastside Autoworks was servicing the gas/electric vehicles on a regular basis, as well as providing unique engineering and repair services for electric vehicles at the shop through a separate business known as Pacific Electric Vehicles LLC, said Owner Glenn MacMillan.
Tracing his automotive roots back in time to the early 1900s, MacMillan recently found that his great-grandfather and great-uncle operated MacMillan Transfer Co. on Vashon Island, a short ferry ride from West Seattle. The company provided vehicle repairs as well as transporting goods.
As times have progressed a bit since his family’s Vashon operation decades ago, MacMillan said his interests were always with import vehicles, especially VW and Audi brands, adding that he has rebuilt a number of VW buses over the years.
At Eastside, a Bosch-approved service center and specialists in European and Japanese models, hybrid service has been a part of the game for well more than 15 years. With the purchase of Bellevue Auto Service & Electric (BAE) last year, MacMillan said he combined two 40-plus year-old and longtime AAA-Approved shops into one location (BAE), and has expanded hybrid service to domestic and import vehicles.
“As a young tech working at Chasworth Automotive, I would consult with Mike Lenci, who founded and operated BAE for more than 40 years, on difficult vehicle issues,” MacMillan said. “It was a perfect fit for Eastside to purchase BAE from Mike so many years later since we had the hybrid experience and he was the master of automotive electrical systems.”
Today, the combined operations (both shop names are still used) service five to seven Toyota Prius and other Toyota hybrid models each month, a few Chevrolet Volt electrics, as well as several Honda, Ford, and other brands of hybrids and electrics. “We’re now prepared for servicing the Nissan Leaf and we’re training our customers for that service,” MacMillan said.
“Repairing hybrids (and electrics) will be a must for the modern repair facility,” he said. “BMW and other brands have more than five models and we can expect even more hybrids and electrics to be offered each year.”
Maintenance is the basic service on hybrids, but they also need service and repair of virtually all vehicle systems, including brakes, alignments, flushes, and more, MacMillan said. “We use a Snap-on Verus because its hybrid coverage is very good for diagnostics, and we also use an older Mastertech for Toyota models, among other tools.”
While EVs don’t require “engine work” there are other vehicle systems to service and batteries to replace. “Battery pack replacements on EVs have slowed a bit due to outside competition, but we still replace batteries and now use Hybrid Automotive’s Prolong Battery Systems products for reconditioning and extending battery life.”
Eastside/BAE staff training is obtained at the Automotive Training Expo (ATE), Bosch Service Training Centers, FutureTech Auto Solutions, and other sources, MacMillan said.
“I’ve been involved with the Seattle Electric Vehicle Association (SEVA) for well over 10 years and get much of our EV information, and certainly a lot of networking, from that group,” MacMillan said. “Any shop that is working on electrics, or hybrids for that matter, should belong to a local electric vehicle association like SEVA. There are local organizations across the country, and these groups can provide excellent resources and networking on EVs.”
In addition to SEVA involvement, MacMillan said being a longtime member of ASA Northwest has been a positive experience. “I have enjoyed the networking within ASA and have served as a vice president of the former East King County unit (now Sno-King North and Sno-King South units) and currently serve as the mechanical chairman for Sno-King South.”
What led MacMillan to expanded hybrid and electric service and repair likely was a result of the former Pacific Electric Vehicles business (2009-2014) that offered EV conversions, provided EV engineering services, sold lithium battery packs, and worked on international battery projects for EVs and the telecom industry.
“We determined that conversions were not very viable, but we did learn a lot about building batteries for cars and telecommunications,” he said, adding that he also learned a great deal about how electric vehicles operate and what service they require.
Today, with a five-bay EnviroStars certified shop that recycles “everything, even cars,” MacMillan said the Eastside/BAE business growth is due to the highly trained techs who provide exceptional electrical diagnosis and hybrid service. “Some local shops still send us problems to diagnose because Jamie Dalziel, our electrical diagnostic tech, is an ECM wizard, and John McKissick, our master technician, has very broad talents and hybrid vehicles are his passion.”
With two company designations, both well-known in their area, MacMillan said the future name may be Bellevue/Eastside Hybrids (and/or Electrics). It’s all about servicing the needs of an ever-expanding alternative-fuel customer base.