Hybrid/EV service brings high-wattage growth
Ventura, Calif.— According to data from ChargePoint, which operates more than 31,000 electric vehicle chargers in the U.S., the total number of hybrids/EVs on the road in the U.S. and Canada at the end of 2017 was to close to 735,000. And nearly 200,000 were sold in the U.S. in 2017, the best year ever for EV sales in the U.S.
“Put in context, that’s more than seven times the 73,000 EVs that had been sold in the U.S. as of 2012,” said Mike McNicol, co-owner of Ventura Hybrid. “And California is still the leading state, with nearly 50 percent of all plug-in sales.”
McNicol had done a lot of research and found that there are a substantial number of earlier-model hybrids in the area in need of maintenance, including engine and transmission repair or replacement, as well as battery reconditioning and replacement, which is what prompted him to open Ventura Hybrid in 2016.
Since 2002, the couple had owned a thriving window tinting business specializing in automotive, as well as commercial and residential tinting and he felt the time was right to enter the hybrid repair field.
“We basically started from scratch, having never done auto repair professionally, although I have been wrenching on cars and motorcycles for 35 years, and we have been in an automotive-related field for more than 16 years,” he said.
Before opening the shop, McNicol found sources for used hybrid components, including engines, transmissions, battery packs, and computer modules and looked at the equipment that was available for recharging and reconditioning batteries.
“We decided to work with Benzeen Auto Parts in Sacramento for those components because they have a good selection of guaranteed parts,” he said. “And we contacted Jeff Sloan at Hybrid Automotive for the reconditioning and recharging equipment and components.”
Sloan set the shop up with the Prolong Master Shop Starter Kit Reconditioning Package, which includes two Prolong “hockey puck” battery chargers, an assortment of vehicle specific harnesses, and everything else needed to recondition a hybrid battery.
McNicol said his next purchase will be the Prolong battery discharger, which is a data logging-enabled automated hybrid battery discharging device.
McNicol said hybrid manufacturers, such as Toyota, state a 10-year battery lifespan but it has been his experience that the lifespan is 8–12 years, depending on a number of factors.
“How you use your vehicle will affect the lifespan of your hybrid battery,” McNicol said. “A taxi or Uber driver driving their Prius 700 miles a week will be cycling their hybrid battery much more than a private user. We find that the more the car is driven, the longer the battery lasts. When a hybrid vehicle sits for extended periods premature failure seems to occur.”
McNicol is ASE G1 certified and working on A6, A8, L1, and L3 certifications. He was also a jet mechanic in the U.S. Navy for four years and said he was taught to do it right the first time.
“You can’t pull an airplane over to the side of the road to fix it if it breaks down,” he said. “That’s the philosophy we brought to the business when my wife, Mary Ann, and I opened our shop. And it’s resulted in a five-star rating on Yelp.”
The shop has seen steady growth and more shop recognition since opening as the result of targeted marketing on social media and word-of-mouth referrals.
Hybrid vehicle battery replacement service is the shop’s bread and butter right now, with the Toyota Prius being 99 percent of that business. The shop also offers new, remanufactured, and used reconditioned battery packs so customers have a choice from which to choose based on their budget.
“It’s difficult to say exactly how much the growth is, in the terms of a percentage, but I would put it close to 60 percent over the past year,” he said. “Average monthly car count varies quite a bit at this point as our business is still fairly new and we are a small owner-operator shop with limited capabilities, although average RO stays pretty steady at around $440.
“Our plan moving forward is to add smog test and repair services and become STAR certified, which will help increase car count and shop brand recognition as well as the bottom line.”