An increase in the number of light electric vehicles (EVs) in Hawke's Bay has sparked moves to introduce new specialised higher standards for the repair industry.
Like other regions, EVs are on the rise here, with 51 registered in the Bay last year. Three years ago there were only five registrations.
To cope with the increasing numbers, and the associated new technologies they are bringing in, new standards will be introduced by the country's largest body of panel beaters, the Collision Repair Association.
Association spokesman Neil Pritchard said the industry was moving to keep ahead of the rapid evolution in car manufacturing which was increasing the complexity of vehicle repairs.
"With the increase of EVs, self-driving technology and new types of construction materials, vehicle manufacturing has seen more advancement over the last decade than the last century," Pritchard said.
He said EVs brought with them "their own set of challenges" when damaged in an accident — among them the potential for fire and electrocution.
"Like all alkali metals lithium is highly reactive and flammable and the risk associated with lithium-ion batteries found in EVs adds a high level of complexity to the repair process, including potential electrocution of the repairer."
Pritchard said panel beaters needed to introduce new processes specific to the type of vehicle to ensure repairs could be completed safely and to a high standard.
"To accommodate this change we are bringing in new international service quality standards to the industry which will see repairers commit to ongoing training, equipment upgrades, annual inspections and audit processes before they can become a licensed collision repairer in this market."
The introduction of new internationally recognised I-CAR standards would mean Hawke's Bay owners of EV and technologically advanced vehicles could be assured panel beating specialists had undergone a training and audit process to keep them up to date with the latest technology, Pritchard said.
According to Ministry of Transport figures Hawke's Bay has 133 registered hybrid and electric vehicles — the 10th highest in the country.
City Collision Repairs manager Chris Greaney, from Napier, said many of the challenges of repairing a hybrid or fully electric vehicle were around the safety - "such as avoiding electrocution from the high voltages in the circuits and storage cells in these vehicles".
That was done by either isolating the power source or by wearing class 0 gloves which are rated at 1500-volts DC maximum-use voltage.
"The largest issue we face when repairing these vehicles is the ability to source the correct repair information. Quite often repairers will spend many hours researching the correct repair method to ensure the manufacturers warranties are kept intact."
Often hybrid or full electric vehicles could not be towed on their own wheels after an accident, because turning the wheels could potentially damage the charging systems.
"The number of electric cars that are crashed and need repair are still very low but as the sales increase obviously so will the amount of repairs," Greaney said.
"On the other hand most of these vehicles also have a huge amount of collision avoidance technology built in which is severely reducing the amount of collisions in new vehicles. There is even talk of uncrashable vehicles in the future.
"However daunting it may seem, it is just another small obstacle modern collision repairers face every day, and through the extensive training we do we will always keep up with the fast-paced changes in technology."