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Why After Sales Service Can’t Catch Up With India’s EV Boom

While India has jumped on the EV bandwagon, with more Indians buying electric cars, the after-sales service is a recurring concern for potential EV buyers.

By Jessica Jani
New Update
ev repairs

When Bengaluru-based Govind Kaniyath took his Ather 450X scooter to a service centre because of a software glitch, the technician was unable to resolve it on his own. “He was remotely chatting with the manufacturing plant of Ather to get guidelines on what to do,” he said. A 10-minute solution took about three hours to resolve. 

Kaniyath, who owns a Tata Nexon EV (electric vehicle) and four electric scooters from Ather, Ola Electric, Bajaj, and Hero Electric, said that he has encountered this problem multiple times. When it comes to fixing minor issues, even technicians in authorised centres are clueless. 

Kaniyath’s experience isn’t isolated. Gurgaon-based EV owner Puneet Rana had to have the battery of his BYD E6 replaced when it malfunctioned because of an accessory he installed. The company refused a warranty for this. But the catch was that the accessory had been installed by a technician at an authorised BYD India workshop in Delhi. After much negotiation, the company agreed to cover the cost of the battery. Rana ended up having to pay for the transportation cost of the battery, amounting to Rs 1.5 lakh. 

There are concerns globally about EV adoption slowing down. According to Deloitte’s 2024 Global Automotive Consumer Study released last week, Indian car buyers prefer hybrid cars to EVs. Kaniyath, who also owns a Toyota Innova Hycross hybrid, said he would ask future EV buyers about their risk appetite before investing in one. “[If] he wants his vehicle to always work, doesn't want to deal with software glitches, etc, then I straight away recommend the hybrid because it's cheaper in the longer run and hybrids don't have this repairability issue as much as electric vehicles,” he said. 

While India has jumped on the EV bandwagon, with more Indians buying electric cars, the after-sales service is a recurring concern for potential EV buyers. A major reason for the gap is the lack of skilled technicians who have a solid knowledge of how to fix an EV. 

Plus, insufficient real-life learning has left technicians woefully underprepared to deal with a technology that is new and often complex. This is a Catch-22 for the industry as there aren’t enough skilled technicians to meet growing demand, and not enough vehicles to draw them out yet. 

Industry bodies and the government have pushed for an increase in courses that train technicians, but formal training courses hit the ground quite late. The Automotive Skills Development Council, the nodal body to form curriculums and certifications for skills in the auto sector, has worked on forming courses for EVs since 2019, but implementation was delayed due to Covid-19. While the first tranche of courses was formally approved in 2020, actual ground-work on skilling and upskilling only started in 2022, the body’s CEO Arindam Lahiri told The Core

Unauthorised Service Centres On The Rise

India has a robust network of after-sales service and repair centres for petrol and diesel vehicles, with a large number of informal or unauthorised garages. According to a 2021 ‘Skill Assessment and Anticipation Study’ by the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, informal workers made up about 75-80% of the total engaged manpower. However, the servicing needs of EVs are significantly different from those of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.

Rajesh Gupta’s EV repair business is one among many small-scale entrepreneurs capitalising on the growing EV adoption in the country. His cramped electric two-wheeler repair shop in Borivali, Mumbai, gets around 15 electric scooters a day for small-scale repairs or servicing. 

While a board outside the shop claims they repair electric two-wheelers from companies like Okinawa, Hero Electric, Ampere Greaves and Kinetic Green, Gupta told The Core that they are not an authorised centre and are not associated with any of the brands mentioned, and also accept vehicles from other brands like Ola Electric. 

Starting in 2019 as a wholesale supplier of spare parts for electric two- and three-wheelers, he has seven outlets across the country now, two of which (one in Mumbai and one in Bangalore) are service centres. 

“The EV market is growing really fast, but what about the after-sales service? It is not able to meet the demand,” Gupta, who has not had any formal training on EVs, told The Core. Having studied only up to Class 8, he claimed all his learning has been on the job. In his Mumbai workshop, he has a staff of nine, most of whom have about five to six years of on-ground experience working with EVs. Some are being trained at his centre itself. 

Most EVs come with an extended warranty for the battery, ranging between five to eight years on average, requiring users to visit authorised centres only. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) also have options to purchase extended warranties for the overall vehicles as well. For instance, Tata offers an extended warranty option of 3+3 years, or up to 1,60,000 km for Rs 48,999 for its EVs.

While there have been instances of malfunctions and fires in electric vehicles repaired or serviced at unauthorised workshops, OEMs have been asking users to only turn to authorised service centres.

“The need [for unauthorised workshops] will always be there because authorised dealership networks will always have [their] own limitations in terms of reach and the volume it can service,” Lahiri added.  

Those who recognise the demand are quickly stepping up. A LinkedIn report from October 2023 stated that India saw the biggest jump of 140% in EV skill acquisition in five years, with 5.1% of auto workers now having EV skills. 

“When it comes to blue-collar workers, what I see is an enthusiasm among the younger generation to be micro-entrepreneurs. They want to learn these skills, they want to understand the nitty-gritties,” Rajeev YSR, founder of the EV skills training programme, EV Masterclass, and former COO of last-mile e-delivery solutions company Avaan India, told The Core. “They want to leverage programs such as PM Vishwakarma… and set up service centres in their Tier 2, Tier 3 towns there, so they can become independent,” he said.

The Need Of The Hour Is Not A Classroom 

Several short-term EV skilling courses have been launched in recent years by government bodies, like the Automotive Skills Development Council (ASDC), as well as industry bodies like German development agency Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit India. Companies like EV Masterclass offer courses certified by ASDC and other bodies to train individuals in the EV ecosystem — from engineers to service technicians. 

For service technicians, the minimum qualification requirements range from a Class-10 pass certificate to an Industrial Training Institute (ITI) certificate in these courses.

OEMs also undertake training of their own. Yogesh Bandal, a trainer for MG Motor India, based in Mumbai, told The Core that their recruitment needs are decided by analysing monthly car sales from data provided by authorised dealerships. “Accordingly, we decide how many EV technicians we would need at a particular location,” he said. Technicians with a minimum ITI qualification and at least three to four years of previous experience working on cars are recruited for training. They are sent to the company’s plant in Halol, Gujarat for a five-day training programme. 

But this isn’t enough. “That only teaches them the basics,” Ram Govind Yadav, an EV ‘techspert’ with MG Motor India in Mumbai told The Core. They need actual on-ground training ranging from anywhere between six months to two years, based on their aptitude, to be sufficiently trained to work on electric cars. 

Even then, he wouldn’t call them completely trained. “The technology is evolving rapidly, you need to keep training and learning constantly,” said Yadav, who previously worked at Mahindra & Mahindra on its electric cars. “I’m still learning,” he said. 

Similarly, for two-wheelers, a classroom course is just the start. The three-month course in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh equips students with the basics, but they need to work with service centres and OEMs to enhance their learning. EV Masterclass has tied up with some OEMs like Kinetic Green and Sun Mobility to hire certified technicians and train them on-ground. “The companies have to be made aware of these programmes, [they] need to come forward to hire and recruit [these] candidates,” Rajeev said.

In India, language barriers are also a challenge. “All the manuals are in English,” said Bandal, adding that this can hinder learning for some. EVs are also largely software-driven, so basic experience working with a laptop is needed. 

Gupta, who is self-taught, said that on-ground training is more important than a course. His newest recruit, Akash, is an 18-year-old who was formerly a Zomato delivery rider. In two months, he has learnt about 60% of the workings of an electric scooter, Gupta said. When asked whether there are any technical barriers or safety issues with technicians not receiving formal training, he said that learning from other experienced people was more helpful than in a classroom. 

One of the biggest shortages of manpower in the auto industry currently is for individuals who understand the basics of auto electricals and electronics, Lahiri said. While lack of awareness is one part of it, another barrier to drawing people in for skilling and upskilling is that the job role isn’t aspirational. 

Jobs in the auto industry – be it in manufacturing or servicing, don’t pay as much as IT or telecom jobs. “So, for most people, it's not a priority or an aspirational job that they want to take up,” Lahiri said. 

Editor’s Note: This article, first published on February 27, 2024, has been updated to add inputs from Arindam Lahiri, the CEO of Automotive Skills Development Council. 


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