Pittsburgh automotive segment unites to power-up electric vehicle instruction

Aug. 15, 2017
Referring to his Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities board position and the group’s extended outreach efforts, “We put on classes for people who work on EVs, especially first-responders when they’re working on EVs (at crash scenes) so they don’t get hurt.”

In the not-too-distant past Pittsburgh’s air was so smoky from belching blast furnaces that the Steel City’s streetlights would come on during the day. With the once-mighty iron mills now relegated to roadside historic markers, the Three Rivers Region presents a lesson in how a community can transform itself from a Rust Belt relic to a thriving center of high-tech activity.

Aftermarket businesses are adapting as well – connecting with an ongoing proliferation of electric vehicles.

“It happened out of necessity,” says Chuck Wichrowski, owner of Baum Boulevard Automotive, which specializes in servicing EVs and other alternative-fueled vehicles. “People realized the steel industry wasn’t coming back, and now we’re open to new things.”

Included in these new things is the population’s propensity to purchase EVs, delivering a jolt of irony to President Donald Trump’s remark that “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris” as he withdrew the United States from the Paris climate accord.

Providing the necessary spark for growing an EV market – and developing the proper maintenance and repair training programs – involves many people making many connections, uniting environmentalists, electric utility executives, government officials, public agencies, private institutions, schools, universities and businesses representing a variety of industries.

In addition to being a board member at the Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities organization, Wichrowski is a sponsor of Carnegie Mellon University’s Charge Car program for conducting research and inducing a wider network of charger placements, having installed one of the area’s first EV chargers at his shop back in 2013.

“We did this for two main reasons,” according to Wichrowski. “The first is to demonstrate to other businesses and institutions that it is very easy to provide car-charging service for their customers and employees. Second, it is part of our continued efforts to support and service alternative-fuel vehicles. As automobile technology changes, we will always do our best to keep up with the changing technology.”

Wichrowski is modest about his industry contributions, but aiding Carnegie Mellon’s automotive research has been a part of the shop’s ambitious alt-fuel involvement. “We would take cars and strip them down to the chassis for the college to make modifications.”

Referring to his Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities board position and the group’s extended outreach efforts, “We put on classes for people who work on EVs, especially first-responders when they’re working on EVs (at crash scenes) so they don’t get hurt.”

Prior to opening Baum Boulevard in 2003, Wichrowski owned a series of gas stations, becoming interested in environmentally conscious technologies before they gained the current levels of popularity. “Fifteen years ago, I had a friend who was getting into biodiesel, and I started selling biodiesel in five-gallon cans.”

Essential training

Membership in Bosch’s auto repair network continues to steer the shop’s in-house educational endeavors along with supplying a flow of EV parts. Wichrowski is a member of the Bosch Advisory Council, and he reports that the firm’s instructional programs are especially useful and relevant.

“Bosch has been very proactive in getting the training online. You can get all the Bosch videos at different levels. They have a full line of interactive videos, and they are augmented at our shop” via teaching by more-experienced staff members. “You don’t just have a technician look at a video.”

Wichrowski observes that he has noticed generational differences among technicians-in-training; those under age 30 tend to express enthusiasm over the videos, while older students “are more interested in looking at a book” for their educational needs.

“The training is essential,” Wichrowski stresses. “You don’t want to be sticking your fingers where they shouldn’t be.”

Baum Boulevard’s employees additionally attend courses at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC), which offers an extensive ASE National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF) accredited curriculum.

Along with teaching green technologies – EVs, natural gas and propane – certificates and associate degrees are available through Ford’s Automotive Student Service Educational Training (ASSET), General Motors’ Automotive Service Educational Program (ASEP) and the MOPAR Career Automotive Program (MOPAR CAP). Classroom and laboratory work is combined with a paid 6- to 12-week on-the-job work program at a participating dealership or repair shop.

Students learn the latest in engine repair, electrical systems, engine control systems, brakes, suspension systems, automatic and manual transmissions, fuel systems and emission control systems. In addition to technical instruction, the associate’s degree program offers courses that enhance future opportunities for career advancement and management positions.

A high-tech shift

The knowledge accumulated at Baum Boulevard is shared with the public by conducting alt-fuel Ride and Drive events. “We do those all the time,” says Wichrowski. “We’ve had them here at our shop and they’re always very successful. Early adopters are always very enthusiastic” about passing along the latest technological developments, and the sessions additionally serve to help attract more business. “It’s always good that people understand what we can do.”

Although “the dealer pretty much has the inside track” for work on newer purchases, “once they’re out of warranty they become our customer,” he says.

EV maintenance and repair services are now a major segment of the shop’s customer base. “We get calls from all over the place. We’ve had people flatbed their cars to get them here,” says Wichrowski. “We work on the cars that our customers drive, so over the years we’ve co-evolved” by keeping up with the latest technologies.

The Pittsburgh region’s overall high-tech shift is augmented in the automotive realm by the presence of Google and Uber research facilities. The city’s notably scenic hills, curves and bridges serve as a rigorous test track for autonomous vehicle experimentation.

“We see them all day long,” Wichrowski says. “It puts them through their paces – getting around Pittsburgh is challenging.”

Subscribe to Aftermarket Business World and receive articles like this every month….absolutely free. Click here.

About the Author

James Guyette

James E. Guyette is a long-time contributing editor to Aftermarket Business World, ABRN and Motor Age magazines.

Sponsored Recommendations

Variable Valve Timing (VVT) Training Series

Almost every new vehicle is equipped with VVT technology. This video explains the weak points in OE designs and gives you a complete overview of the replacement options available...

Cam & Crank Sensor Training Series

Today's advanced engines depend on accurate and consistent information from cam and crank sensors for performance, fuel economy and emissions, and not all cam and crank sensors...

Buying Your Next Diagnostic Tablet

When you last invested in a diagnostic tablet for your shop, did you consider it a potential gateway to increased revenue? Probably not. It’s likely you viewed it as a necessary...

Access Carside OEM Repair Data with MOTOR TruSpeed

Now available on all Autel MaxiSYS Ultra Series tools, MOTOR TruSpeed Repair delivers expanded OEM service and repair data within days of being published by

Voice Your Opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Vehicle Service Pros, create an account today!