New mechanics focus training on green cars

August 5, 2009 7:48:26 PM PDT
San Francisco City College is on its way to being the place to train the next generation of auto mechanics. The college is getting stimulus funds to develop classes teaching hybrid and plug-in car maintenance.

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President Barack Obama hopes $2.4 billion in federal stimulus funds will help the U.S. become a competitor in the battery and electric vehicle industries.

"I don't want to have to import a hybrid car, I want to be able to build a hybrid car right here," Mr. Obama said at a Midwest RV factory that once went bankrupt but will soon be producing electric trucks.

The money is going to nearly 50 projects across the country. U.S.-based manufacturers will get $1.5 billion to produce batteries and their components, $500 million to produce electric drive components and $400 million for other electric-vehicle related projects, including education and workforce training.

The only California grants are going to the South Coast Air Quality Management District and San Francisco City College -- which is getting $500,000.

"We've recognized here in California there's just more need for electric vehicle training," Gerald Bernstein said.

Bernstein wrote the winning grant proposal; he is director of the Advanced Transportation Technology and Energy program at City College. He says the money will be used to develop training for maintenance on hybrid and all-electric cars.

"The first few years you have your car, it's maintenance is by the dealer, after a while it moves to independent shops and that's when these skills are really going to be needed," Bernstein said.

One of those independent shops is Pat's Garage. Owner Pat Cadam has been focusing on becoming a specialist in the new hybrid and plug-in technologies; he will also be a consultant to City College.

"My goal in doing all of this is to have technicians working in my shop, expand as the industry expands, I want to hire people out of the local training institutes," Cadam said.

Several Bay Area start-ups are working on car batteries, but they did not get any funding. One of them, Menlo Park-based Imara says it is because this grant went only to companies with established contracts with car-makers.

LINK: The drawbacks of lithium-ion batteries

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