By Scott Robertson Jr.
Past President Jonathan Morrow has often said, “While we are not the best in sales techniques, delivery systems or technology, we are the best in dismantling vehicles.” Our industry has been processing vehicles for over 100 years, evolving slightly to meet environmental requirements and machinery advancements. You’d think that we would have the market cornered and have a bullet proof business model; after all, we are the best in processing end-of-life vehicles. Let’s take a look at history.
Sears and Roebuck was an innovator in sales way before Amazon. In the late 1890s, they published a 500-page catalogue enabling rural families the purchase of lower-cost merchandise that included delivery. They took advantage of mass production techniques and sold over 75,000 pre-fabricated kit homes by mail order. As Americans started living in more urban areas, Sears opened their first brick and mortar store in 1925. They even built the world’s tallest building in Chicago. They were innovators and considered the best in selling products … What could go wrong?
Our industry is going to encounter a disruption when electric vehicles containing lithium ion batteries hit our dismantling bays. The OEMs and battery manufacturing companies are already planning for this future and our industry is nothing more than an afterthought. They are proposing policies that potentially could restrict our ability to sell electric vehicle batteries. Seems like they are abandoning their single-use part manufacturing policy when there is an opportunity for profits. I’ve said it before, the OEMs are not driven by safety or recycling, they look at one thing – profits. If they had concerns for safety, thousands of lives could have been saved by recalling the GM ignition switch defect. It was cheaper to settle the claims than fix the defect. Profits over safety. Leopards don’t change their spots.
Electric vehicles have significantly less moving parts than an internal combustion vehicle, thus requiring less maintenance, lower probability of part failure and longer use before end of life. Most of our business models depend on the sale of recycled original equipment parts, of which the top two part types are the engine and the transmission. Well, guess what? Those are gone with the electric vehicle. What component from electric vehicles will replace our top selling products? My bet is on the battery.
Dismantling an electric vehicle and storing an EVB is another major disruptor. I remember when we encountered the unibody design vehicle along with front-wheel drive and engine sub frames. We had to adapt to handle this new design in our dismantling techniques. Instead of a walk off nose, we had to invest in cutting saws to remove the front clip. Many thought that these vehicles would be too complex to fix, and body shops had to invest big money on frame machines and measuring equipment.
Electric vehicle batteries come in all shapes, sizes and composition. Some are the entire floor pan, others are compact, and at the same time advancing technology will see different composition. Are our dismantling lifts capable of conforming to every electric vehicle design? An oil spill can be cleaned up, a mistake with an electric car is deadly. How and where you can store an EVB is another disruptor. I’m sure it’s going to be different than motors and transmissions.
We can overcome this disruptor through training and protocols. ARA has recognized the need for both with electric vehicles and we began last year by commissioning Andy Latham to update our electric vehicle guide. Once complete, we will move this to an electronic platform on ARA University. I am directing the ARA Certification Committee to focus on developing facility and training protocols for electric vehicles. These protocols will lead to facility certification and employee certification in electric vehicle dismantling. I believe that both are essential to our industry remaining relevant in end-of-life electric vehicle recycling. Ignoring this disruptor will not keep it away, we need to recognize it, implement a plan and adapt for survival.
Our industry has many different business models and ARA represents all of them in negotiations with other industries and legislators. Every day, we legislate, educate and advocate for auto recyclers around the world. It’s our duty to inform the industry, it’s your responsibility to put it into action. Working together we will stay relevant into the era of the electric vehicle.