Across the street from the East Texas Oil Museum, Kilgore College automotive technology instructors are preparing to teach students about the future of electric cars in the United States.
The irony is not lost on Automotive Career Development Center CEO Craig Van Batenburg, visiting Kilgore from Massachusetts to teach KC automotive tech instructors.
“Here I am where oil is king, and I’m trying to get the sunshine on solar panels to charge this car and drive around without any oil at all,” he said.
Van Batenburg’s trip to Kilgore is part of a new school partnership the college program has with his ACDC company. Through the partnership, which began in the fall semester, students have access to Van Batenburg’s live and recorded webinars and participate in a one-hour question and answer session.
“We’re on the edge of the electric vehicles really taking off,” Brandon Belken, lead KC automotive tech instructor, said. “We’re East Texas; we’ll be kind of last to see it, but we want to get our students prepared for it. We want them to know how to work around them safely. There are some precautions you need to take, but once you understand the theory behind them, they are really more simple and more reliable than a regular gas-powered vehicle… It’s almost like you’re using a different brain when you work on these cars because there’s a lot that’s totally different, but once you know it, they’re actually more simple.”
Even in Kilgore, though, hybrid cars have become more common on the roads even if people do not recognize them as readily.
“They’re out there, but most people think Prius is the only hybrid, when in reality you probably have seen one on your way to work, and didn’t know it,” he said.
Van Batenburg purchased his first hybrid car, a Honda Insight, in 1999 and operated a repair shop specializing in Hondas and other Japanese cars in addition to conducting emissions training for the state of Massachusetts.
He has since owned many – if not all – hybrid and electric cars available in America, including the Toyota Prius, which celebrated its 20th year after becoming available in Japan in 1997, the Ford Escape, the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf.
Ford has announced it plans to have hybrid options for the F-150 and Mustang. General Motors has also announced, Van Batenburg said, they will have 20 electrified cars available by 2022.
“In this college, you’ve got an 18-year-old young man or young woman who is going to learn to be an automotive technician. They may not stay in Kilgore. It’s a lovely little town, but let’s say they move to Dallas or they move to San Antonio or they move to Austin. What are they going to see running around? Priuses – lots of them. Chevy Volts. All these cars. They have to fix them. If they don’t have one at the school here and you’re not taught how to work on it, you have an employment problem… They realize that the future’s here,” he said. “It’s not going to change.”
Van Batenburg said automotive technicians working in the country are aging and more and more jobs will be available in the next decade as repair shops and dealerships look for people with the appropriate training to replace retiring technicians.
Van Batenburg also visit with high school automotive tech teachers at the Texas Industrial Vocational Association conference in Montgomery to help give students a background in working with hybrid and electric cars before enrolling in a college-level program.
Although Belken and fellow KC instructor Tanton Johnson are introducing hybrid and electric cars into the curriculum, Belken said, that does not change how they approach the other instruction that is part of the certificate and associate’s degree programs.
“We’re not going to change anything that we’re already doing to service regular cars; we’re just trying to integrate this in and add this in because we know that depending on where they go to work at, whether it’s a dealer or independent shop, there’s a good chance they could work on a 2010 Prius,” Belken said. “Around here, I haven’t seen a whole lot of independent shops really advertising or trying to tailor to hybrid vehicle owners, so they don’t have a lot of options except to go back to the dealer… I think you’re going to start to see that change… We’re just trying to expand training to our students, get them prepared. That way if they go to work at an independent shop or a dealership and they have to service these vehicles, they can do it safely.”
Now, Belken said, they can start collecting parts and equipment needed to expand the offerings they have with hybrid and electronic cars without having to invest tens of thousands of dollars at once.
He had some background, but the training from Van Batenburg allows both Johnson and Belken to better understand hybrid and electric cars to be able to teach their students.
“It’s one thing to be able to diagnose a vehicle and fix it, but we have to know it on another level to be able to teach it properly and teach the theory properly to our students… Just because I know how it works and because I know how to fix it doesn’t mean I can explain it,” Belken said. “You have to be able to explain things two or three different ways sometimes to convey that to a student.”