Maine’s 1st hybrid and electric car repair class now underway in South Portland

Dec. 16—SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Justin Hynes’ bulky rubber gloves murmured and squeaked as he worked, making noises just shy of rude, bodily functions. Hynes smiled, shaking his head. His classmates chuckled.

But there was no way around it, embarrassing or not.

Hynes had to wear them, for safety, while hooking a large, 200-volt, car battery for a hybrid to a computer, for testing.

The students in the class are the first crop enrolled in a new Southern Maine Community College program teaching experienced automotive technicians how to diagnose and service hybrid and electric cars. Together with a 32-hour online training completed prior to arriving on campus, it’s intended to prepare students to take the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence’s light duty hybrid and electric vehicle specialist certification test.

The program is the first of its kind in the state. Until now, Mainers had to travel elsewhere to get this kind of hands-on training.

“Electric vehicles are clearly the wave of the future, and until now there haven’t been any training options available in Maine,” said Tim Winkeler, president and CEO of VIP Tires and Service, which sent three of its automotive technicians to the class. “With electric vehicle sales growing fast in Maine, the U.S. and globally, VIP needs certified workers for electric vehicles.”

Hynes, the VIP technician with the cheeky gloves, said he was eager to be part of the inaugural class.

“My store in Yarmouth sees two or three hybrid cars a week,” he said.

But without specialized electric vehicle training, Hynes and his fellow technicians have had to turn many potential customers away, telling them they had to take their cars to a dealer.

That will now change.

“Our company sees the writing on the wall,” Hynes said. “We want to be at the forefront of what’s coming.”

The weeklong course, held at the community college’s seaside South Portland campus, is completely full. The college plans to offer more classes in 2022.

The current class is run through the college’s Workforce Training program, aimed at local companies and working individuals. The program offers learning opportunities in a number of fields including computers, welding, construction, medical assisting, manufacturing — and now hybrid and electric cars.

Ruth Morrison, chair of the automotive technology department at the college, is also taking the class.

“I’ve been excited about this technology for a long time,” Morrison said. “Now is the time to do this because there’s more and more hybrid and electric cars on the road. The lack of trained technicians is about to become an international crisis.”

The community college brought in a hybrid and electric car specialist with the Las Vegas-based company Future Tech to teach the first course. After this class, Morrison will take over teaching duties.

Halfway through the week, Hynes was enjoying the class. He said learning about electric cars was not significantly more difficult than staying current on other complicated, modern vehicles.

“It’s different but the same,” he said. “It’s just a new technology.”

Joe Moore, another automotive instructor at the college taking the course, agreed. He said diagnosing and repairing electric cars was a natural progression.

“We’re puzzle solvers,” Moore said. “We fix things.”