If you have a battery problem with your hybrid, there’s nowhere to go in Bend. The automotive program hopes to change that.
Fixing hybrids is only a small part of the new degree offered by the Automotive Technology program at Central Oregon Community College, according to Paul Pelly, an automotive technology instructor at COCC. The Technology in Electronics and Diagnostics degree focuses electronic and computer based technologies found in newer vehicles.
“We are on the cutting edge,” said Pelly, a 35-year industry insider. “We’ve always wanted to be there, and now we are there.”
Pelly and COCC automotive technology department director Ken Mayes, have been leading this push toward change that much of the industry has been avoiding.
“There has been a pushback from the industry,” Pelly said “Mostly I think it’s fear. Our ultimate job is to get the new technicians to not be afraid.”
This fear is driven by the rapid change from traditional nuts and bolts mechanics to the electronics and computer programs of modern vehicles.
With the automated driving capabilities and completely revamped mechanical components, current and future technicians alike are unprepared for what they see in new high end automobile models, according to Pelly.
“Now when you open the hood, it doesn’t even look like an engine anymore,” Pelly said. “It’s a changing environment; the new technician has to embrace it. Somebody who has pushed back and said ‘I am not going to work on computers’ is going to be replaced.”
The new degree will emphasize three areas: clean diesel technologies, hybrid systems training, and on board communication, according to Mayes.
Collaborating with local hybrid car dealers, the program will offer first hand experience in what Pelly calls, “predictive maintenance”; the ability to diagnose problems and ultimately reconstruct hybrid car batteries.
“Up until now, nobody’s been able to tell you how long or how good your battery pack is,” Pelly said. “We’ll be able to do that at the college level.”
Pelly hopes that by spring 2014, local hybrid owners will be able to bring their vehicles to the college and have their batteries diagnosed and serviced, making COCC the only facility with the capacity to do this in Central Oregon.
The college is one of only a handful of institutions in the nation offering this type of program, according to Pelly, who is working with Mayes to build the degree from the ground up.
“This is a degree that we couldn’t get from anybody else, so we’re building it right now,” Pelly said. “We are on the forefront of ground that hasn’t been dealt with.”
By receiving state and private grants, as well as collaborating with local automotive dealers, the program has been able to purchase some of the advanced equipment needed for the program.
“It’s a win-win all the way around,” Pelly said. “I think that’s why the state of Oregon said yeah, let’s go forward with it.”
More grants are being requested and if approved, the program will be able to move to the new tech center in Redmond, according to Mayes.
“We are a little community college working on a greater picture. We are moving forward in a major way,” Mayes said. “Components that we dreamed about are coming together. This is an exciting time.”