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Halfords urges UK government to train mechanics for shift to electric

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The head of one of the UK’s largest car servicing business has called on the government to help fund the recruitment and training of thousands more mechanics in order to service the growing number of electric vehicles.

Graham Stapleton, chief executive of Halfords, said the number of such vehicles will increase by millions through to 2030, when the government has proposed banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars.

“We think the industry will need to add 6,000 to 7,000 people a year between now and 2030 to ensure there is a backbone of mechanics to keep these vehicles on the road,” he told the Financial Times on Wednesday.

“Everybody needs to lean in and support that effort,” he added. “We want government to support the industry and invest in more apprenticeships . . . they are the ones seeking this scale shift in adoption.”

Halfords intends to recruit and train 2,000 technicians by March 2022 and a further 2,000 by the following year, but those numbers include people working on e-bikes and scooters as well as cars.

The number of electric vehicle services performed by Halfords Autocentres more than doubled in the six months to October 1 compared with the same period two years ago, before the pandemic.

But Stapleton pointed out that outside Halfords and other nationwide chains, such as Kwik Fit and National Tyres and Autocare, the car servicing market was dominated by small independent operators that might not have the resources to scale up their electric vehicle capability quickly enough.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders forecasts that battery-powered vehicles will constitute a fifth of all cars in the UK by 2030, equivalent to about 7m vehicles compared with about 350,000 at present.

Although electric vehicles are in many respects mechanically simpler than conventional cars, with no spark plugs, exhaust systems or conventional gearboxes, they still need specialist servicing.

Stapleton said that their increased weight meant they required more frequent tyre changes and suspension adjustments, while electronic driving aids commonly installed on electric cars also needed periodic recalibration.

His comments mirror those from the Institute of the Motor Industry, which has estimated that 90,000 automotive technicians will be required by 2030 but forecast that at current rates there would be a shortfall of 35,700 technicians by that time.

The Department for Transport said it recognised that workforces needed the right skills, and that it had “launched a number of initiatives” and was endorsing “an industry scheme to ensure the UK’s mechanics are well trained to repair and maintain electric vehicles”.

Electric propulsion in other forms has also been a boon for Halfords. Sales of e-bikes and scooters were up 140 per cent on two years ago in its first half, it said on Wednesday, helping drive overall sales of £695m — up 8.7 per cent on last year and 19 per cent on the year before.

The company also upgraded its forecasts for the full year, saying it now expected to report pre-tax profit of £80m to £90m against a previous estimate of £75m.

Shares in the West Midlands-based group, which had drifted back from the highs reached during the Covid-19 pandemic, were up 16 per cent in early afternoon trade on the back of the upgrade.

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