Alternative Fuel Vehicles and the Automotive Aftermarket

Monday, August 19, 2019

Micheal Smyth

By Micheal Smyth, director of the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium (NAFTC), based at West Virginia University

This blog post is the first in a series leading up to AAPEX 2019 in Las Vegas. Subsequent posts will highlight topics related to alternative fuels training sessions scheduled to take place in Mobility Garage – Products and Training for Tomorrow.

For years we’ve heard that alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) are the future. It’s fair to say the future is upon us, with cars like the Toyota Prius, the Ford Fusion, the Chevy Bolt, and Tesla’s different models frequently seen in communities across the United States. Other less obvious — but more and more common — AFVs include natural gas-powered garbage trucks, school buses running on propane and biodiesel, and various delivery vehicles running on these fuels.

Toyota Prius
The Toyota Prius models are the most popular electric hybrid vehicles in the U.S., with more than three million sold since 2000.

In fact, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that there will be more than 75 million alternative fuel passenger vehicles and light duty trucks on American roads by the year 2050, triple the current number. This AFV expansion puts us in the midst of a revolution in the automotive industry. All of the alternative fuels are gaining in popularity — with electric drive vehicles leading this growth — and the rapid development of autonomous technology promises to fundamentally transform our industry in the years ahead. As Bill Long, president and CEO of the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA), noted on this site in February, “Some 30 percent-plus of the growth in market size is projected to come from products that currently don’t exist in the aftermarket.” Many of these products, it seems reasonable to predict, will be related to AFVs.

With this growth comes a wealth of opportunities for aftermarket companies and small business owners. Perhaps the most obvious way this will play out for AAPEX attendees will be in the new tools, parts, and supplies needed to service and maintain alternative fuel vehicles. As we like to remind people, AFVs aren’t more dangerous than conventional cars and trucks, but they are different and have different components. Businesses that become ready to work on AFVs will have a leg up on their competition in the coming years.

Adapting an existing auto maintenance and repair business to accommodate alternative fuel vehicles can usually be done with minimal changes to the facility.

A less visible component, but one vital to the success of widespread AFV adoption, is training and education. Examples include:

  • Independent garage owners need to know about laws and codes regulating AFV repair and maintenance facilities.
  • Fleet managers need to know about different fuel characteristics and costs, including fueling infrastructure.
  • Utility overseers must understand the impact things like fast-charge electric stations have on the local electric grid.
  • Pre- and in-service technicians will need to learn specific information about AFVs: from routine maintenance tasks to diagnosing problems to collision repair and more.
  • Firefighters and other first responders must be trained to deal with numerous fuels and vehicles safely.

Mobility Garage at AAPEX 2019 will feature several highly regarded trainers providing information about important AFV topics. Between now and November, we will update this blog with more on these experts and the topics they will discuss as part of Mobility Garage. To attend, make sure you’re registered for AAPEX.

During AAPEX (Nov. 5 – 7, Sands Expo, Las Vegas), the NAFTC will be providing live updates on social media. Follow us on Twitter (@naftcwvu) and Facebook, More information about the NAFTC may be found on our website at: