Sweeney Technicians Prepare for EV Future

BOARDMAN, Ohio – James Moon pops the hood of a Chevrolet Bolt EV, revealing a spotless, light gray motor with bright orange cables that snake across the top and connect snugly into a central power module.

The architecture of the motor is completely different from a conventional combustion engine – there are no spark plugs, no radiator, no noisy belt drives. A driver need not worry about oil changes, transmission fluid or replacing a head gasket. 

As for repairing the exhaust system of the vehicle, well, there simply is no exhaust system to repair in an EV.

“The technology is just off the charts,” says Moon, a master technician at Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC in Boardman who recently completed his certification in electric vehicles.

“Anything colored in orange is high voltage,” he says as he peers under the hood. “There are several modules that communicate with each other through the system.”

Moon, a 37-year veteran in the auto tech industry, has spent the last four years working toward certification in electric vehicles. Although he’s received his credentials, he knows it’s just the beginning of an ongoing learning experience as GM dealerships make the leap to EVs along with the automaker.

“It’s always a learning process,” Moon says. “You have to stay with it and keep ahead of the times.”

Moon says EVs still have the basics that require routine maintenance – brakes, tires, wiper blades – but electric vehicles contain fewer components, thereby reducing the amount of repair work necessary.

“The brake control is all electric” and two coolant tanks use de-ionized water to feed the transmission and a 12-volt battery. Regular coolant, he says, would build resistance within the system and cause damage to the motor. A heat exchanger acts as the thermal management system of the vehicle and is used to heat and cool the interior and the EV battery.

“There are two batteries,” Moon says. One, the traditional 12-volt power source used in vehicles today and the other a lithium ion electric-vehicle battery roughly the size of a truck bed. Training and a deep understanding of these vehicles are paramount as GM and its dealer network make the transition. “It’s not for just anybody to tackle,” he says.

The Bolt EV and the larger Bolt EVU model operate on GM’s older BEV2 (battery electric vehicles) platform and not the newly designed Ultium base. Since the configuration and chemistry is different than the BEV2, the Bolt series won’t be served by GM’s new Ultium design. Instead, it’s likely the vehicle could be replaced with an Ultium-powered crossover by 2023 or 2024.

“EVs are whole different world,” says Mihidul Kaluwila, an EV tech intern at Sweeney.  Kaluwila graduated from Youngstown State University last year with a degree in mechanical engineering. He has interned at the dealership for six months. 

Kaluwila says his YSU education helped lay a strong foundation to pursue a career with electric vehicles. “I’ve received all the theory and basics on how this works,” he says. “For the last six months, I’ve been working hands-on to see how all that theory translates into practical life.”

Indeed, working on EVs is easier than conventional vehicles, Kaluwila says. “It’s more or less a motor and a battery,” he says. “There are less parts, less components that are easier to replace.”

A combustion engine, for example, is home to about 1,000 parts and hundreds of moving components, Kaluwila says. Electric motors are more modular-based and have significantly fewer moving parts. “EV’s are the future,” he says. “My plan is to go through EV certification in the next couple of years. I’m excited about all of the new trucks and cars.”

Certification is achieved through a curriculum GM developed through its Service Technical College in Troy, Mich. Technicians undergo training in dozens of areas such as high-voltage battery systems fundamentals, electric-vehicle diagnosis and service, electric transmissions, extended-rage electric vehicles and high-voltage power electronics, according to the center course catalogue.

“This is constantly being updated,” Moon says, noting he’ll probably enroll in five additional courses as the new EV models begin to roll out later this year.

By fall, the dealership should have a GMC Hummer EV on the lot. Future products include the Chevrolet Silverado EV and a Equinox in 2023.

“The biggest thing ahead is for the customer to adapt and get used to the need to plug in,” Moon says. While new EVs should boast a range of more than 250 miles on a single charge, some hesitancy remains among the general public when it comes to full-fledged EV adoption.

He believes, however, this skepticism will be short-lived.  “The whole experience of driving is different. We need to do our best so the customer is satisfied and enjoys the experience.”

Pictured: The Bolt EV battery is charged with a connector attached to a charging station.