Replaceable cartridge oil filter used in Ecotec engines fitted to 2011 Chevrolet Cruze

Replaceable cartridge oil filter used in Ecotec engines fitted to 2011 Chevrolet Cruze

I was picking up a few familiar items from the auto parts store this week, getting ready to do some routine maintenance on my wife's car, and a break job for a friend. I got to thinking about what it will take to keep the next generation of automobiles running smoothly. It could change quite a bit from what we're used to, and potentially impact some businesses that are focused on keeping drivers up to date on their service schedules.

A pretty basic part of caring for and prolonging the life of your car's engine is regularly changing the oil and filter. It has been an integral part of vehicle upkeep for decades now. It is so ingrained into car culture because combustion engines are the go-to powerhouse for cars, trucks, buses, trains, boats, and even a good percentage of airplanes. It's what we've always done. There are industries built around helping us keep our engines well-oiled and clean. There are countless quick-lube type stores that will save you the trouble of getting your hands dirty and change it for you in a matter of minutes. What happens when you take away the engines that need the oil, and replace them with electric motors? There has been a huge push lately towards battery-powered electric vehicles, and the trend may continue to gain momentum. Will the filter manufacturers still be able to sell enough volume to other markets to survive? Will the Jiffy-Lubes manage to stay in business?

When you take away the gasoline and diesel engines, a few other things will disappear too. There will be no more need for fuel or intake filters, spark plugs or mufflers. There are plenty of companies, big and small, cranking out small, necessary items like these by the millions each year, very dependent on vehicle and replacement part sales. Like the drive-through oil change shops, the success of these manufacturers is decided by demand. If the global automotive industry adopts the electric motor as the standard, many of these suppliers could be in trouble too.

The use of electric drive systems has also made regenerative braking possible. Although it hasn't yet been used to completely replace hydraulic brakes, it could, in theory. This would mean the demand for rotors, pads, cylinders and pistons could decrease significantly.

While the percentage of EVs is set to start growing more rapidly in the coming years, and the threat lost sales volume is not out of the question for suppliers of consumable parts found on most gasoline cars. The reality is that the growth of the EV segment shouldn't be fast enough to catch these businesses and suppliers off guard.  They'll have time to diversify or find niche markets. Additionally, even if EVs make up the majority of new car sales at some point, there will still be an abundance of existing vehicles requiring traditional maintenance.

It's starting to sound like there won't be much involved with maintaining a future EV. In its basic sense, an electric powertrain can be pretty simple compared to what's found on most cars today. Simple doesn't necessarily mean better, easier, or cheaper though. When a big set of lithium ion batteries becomes a part of the scheduled service, things could start looking pretty ugly. Thankfully, companies like GM and Nissan are offering lengthy warranties on the batteries for buyers of their upcoming plug-in electric cars. The more advanced cars become, the more difficult DIY maintenance will be. Perhaps this will be an opportunity for Jiffy-Lube stores to become Jiffy-Charge.