© 2023 WGLT
A public service of Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Bloomington-Normal electric vehicle maintenance teachers share their passion

Students learn about the technology in several kinds of electric vehicles in the training program offered by Heartland Community College.
Charlie Schlenker
Students learn about the technology in several kinds of electric vehicles in the training program offered by Heartland Community College.

The first crop of students has begun a course of study in the Heartland Community College Electric Vehicle Energy Storage training program. Eventually, they will go out to repair the growing number of electric vehicles in the community.

Tony Foos is a trainer for Rivian working at Heartland's facility on Martin Luther King Drive in Bloomington. Mike Deavers is a Heartland instructor. They talked with WGLT’s Charlie Schlenker about the training effort. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Foos said autos are autos in some part, but the new program of study is different from traditional work in important ways.

Foos: There are a lot of similarities in the core basics of the way the vehicle operates. The caveat: the batteries allow more interaction with the vehicle and the consumer

WGLT: Enlarge on that.

Foos: With everything being electronically controlled, the vehicle can take (the) place of some of the safety issues, let’s say if a driver is fatigued or distracted. A vehicle can take over stopping, it can help stability in turning and in sharp turns or braking. In case of an accident, it has a lower center of gravity, which makes it safer in a rollover condition. For a pickup truck or an SUV having a lower center of gravity makes it a lot safer on the road.

WGLT: I noticed over there, there is an old Mitsubishi i-MiEV. It's not just the Rivian stuff you're teaching. How many different platforms are part of the course and are there crucial differences in those models?

Deavers: Although we have a partnership with Rivian, we also want to allow the students to experience other manufacturers. The Mitsubishi you are referring to is a donation from State Farm. And it's an older technology. There are different things that happen as the technology evolves. A lot of that is about battery cooling, and that sort of thing. There are different technologies employed as those vehicles have evolved. Plus, there are also different ways of performing the same function between manufacturers. Some manufacturers keep some of their computer systems proprietary. By selecting different manufacturers, we have access to different components of the vehicle through the computer system and can do different things with the students.

WGLT: Electric vehicles are still emerging, although they will become possibly the largest share of the auto industry over the next 20 years. How fast is your rate of change in instruction?

Deavers: That's what's wonderful about the department here! There's always something new to learn. We're always on the cutting edge, whether it’s the automotive sector or the manufacturing sector. Change is as fast as they can improve anything from the the engineers at the auto companies, and their parts suppliers. There are things going on now that we can't even imagine yet.

WGLT: Like what?

Deavers: I think the biggest thing right now is the ability of the batteries to maintain their charge and how quick those can charge, and the life expectancy. I think battery technology is the next big jump that we're going to see.

WGLT: Tony, you're specifically with Rivian, sited at at Rivian. How is the pipeline working to create Rivian workers?

Foos: We are working on multiple programs. As an instructor here, I'm supporting Heartland and the electric vehicle program they have. We will have future programs that'll have more of a streamlined pipeline. You still have to make sure they have a full education. To keep it generic, a student would probably be in school for about two years to be fully certified as an entry level technician at an electric vehicle dealership.

WGLT: Hit the high points of what they learn in that time, would you?

Foos: You learn everything. One of the programs for our next semester is a thermal management program. A huge part of proper battery operation is maintaining temperature. We're currently developing the program for how you service and operate it. We will have whole battery pack replacements. You also learn the braking systems, and the regular odds and ends: interior components and maintenance.

WGLT: How satisfying is being in this time and this developing area?

Foos: I have 25 years’ experience as a master technician. When I started out, cars had just become front wheel drive and fuel injected. Everybody that was in the shop prior to me said this front wheel drive fuel injection thing is going nowhere. And you know it's full circle! I'm hearing the same thing from some of the negative people about electric vehicles. It's the same transition. The electric vehicles will be the future and it's an exciting new platform for all of us to learn on. It's going to be less of an extreme impact on the environment. It's going to create a much more renewable future for us, our families, our kids, and our kid’s kids.

Deavers: I grew up in the community. I've been here my whole life. I went through Normal Community High School. I graduated in 1990. Just a couple of years after I graduated, they closed the auto shop, turned it into biology classrooms and moved on. I crossed the street to Illinois State University, I went through their automotive program sort of backwards. I took all my major classes as a freshman and sophomore, and university studies as a senior, because unbeknownst to me, they were limiting their automotive program. All those programs went away. It's just exciting to me that all these years later the need is being recognized. You know, I can help promote, and educate and bring that level of knowledge back and recreate where we were.

WGLT: Because this area is developing so rapidly, it must present a challenge to you to stay current in order to give the students instruction. How do you do that?

Foos: Mike and I are both very passionate about it. Our free time consists of research. I'm fortunate. I work with Rivian. And I have access to a lot of all the information that Rivian possesses. I'm able to see all the top-level engineering and processes that are coming out every week. And along with research online and from battery manufacturers, Mike and I collaborate, and we are able to bring it to the class.

Deavers: While I am eating breakfast, I'm on the internet. This morning, I was researching the very brake booster and master cylinder combination that we took apart for the demonstration today. What I was looking for is how we can wire that without the computer so we can make it do its actions without the control system. Eventually at some point, we'd like to have that system in the lab. Some of it is proprietary. Some of it we just don't have access to yet. And being able to sort of hot wire that stuff to make it work to demonstrate to the students which terminal does what and what action does what, it's almost a hobby as well.

We depend on your support to keep telling stories like this one. You – together with donors across the NPR Network – create a more informed public. Fact by fact, story by story. Please take a moment to donate now and fund the local news our community needs. Your support truly makes a difference.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
Related Content