[caption id="attachment_234274" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer, right, said he was impressed by the operations set up by Evolve founder and CEO John Sweigart, a former Tesla executive, to address the next generation of electric vehicles (EV). | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
NEW CASTLE – Inside a fairly plain white building near Wilmington Airport, the startup company Evolve is quietly writing the script for what could become the standard-bearer for electric vehicle (EV) repair and servicing.Founded a year ago by John Sweigart, a former Tesla executive and auto collision repair industry veteran, Evolve may be the nation’s first full-service auto repair and maintenance shop exclusively for electric vehicles of any make or model.Walking through its 20,000-square-foot facility feels less like a traditional auto body shop and more like a high-tech manufacturing plant, and that’s on purpose.
[caption id="attachment_234276" align="alignleft" width="300"] Evolve, located off Churchmans Road in New Castle, is perhaps the nation's first repair shop exclusively focused on electric vehicles. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
Over five years with Tesla, Sweigart oversaw improvements in the company’s service stations in Norway and China before ending his career on Tesla’s production line in California. Ready to move on from the notoriously high-stress company, he returned home to Delaware where he realized an undeniable fact: despite the growth of EV sales, consumers lacked a certified repair shop that specializes in their vehicles.“It's not going to take 20 years to transition to electric,” Sweigart told Delaware Business Times, noting that the Tesla Model Y now ranks among the most sold cars in the world. “It's coming and no one wants to fix these. They don't know how to fix them, and you've got to fix them very differently.”While companies like Tesla have their own service stations, most small service shops are not trained or equipped to work on EVs. That’s led to an influx of work at Tesla’s stations, including its shop in Stanton, and led to lengthy delays in service – the company even contracts work to Evolve now to keep pace, Sweigart said.Fixing a Tesla is very different than a Toyota Corolla, because EVs are not welded together as traditional internal combustion engine vehicles are but rather glued and screwed together, Sweigart explained. That’s due to the seven different types of steel and aluminum within them and it means collision repair of EVs has to be approached very differently.The high-tech nature of the electronic systems on EVs that monitor its battery power, safety sensors and cameras, dashboard and more also leads to more sensitive fixes.
[caption id="attachment_234278" align="alignright" width="300"] Evolve already draws customers within a 100-mile radius due to its knowledge of capabilities on all electric vehicles, especially Teslas. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
It’s why Evolve is set up for shift and line work, with teams of staff working through repairs on damaged EVs rather than assigning one mechanic to each car. Sweigart has designed Evolve’s shop to operate on the Kaizen philosophy of continuous improvement and problem-solving that was made famous first by Toyota.That approach also leads to a much faster turnover time for Evolve, where appointments can be made in two days and repairs completed within 10 days versus an industry average of 45 days for an appointment and 37 days for a repair.Also aiding Evolve’s approach though is a significant investment in inventory by Sweigart, who has self-funded the startup to date. The company has about $300,000 in parts inventory any given day.“There's no dealer network for Tesla, and that's a problem. If I had a Toyota Camry in here and I needed a headlamp, I can go right to Price Toyota I bet you they have it. If they don't, I can get one today,” he said. “That’s not the case for Tesla, so we have to have it on hand.”Nick Kupstas, director of strategic partnerships for Evolve and an insurance veteran who also worked at Tesla, said their detailed data analysis on vehicles also makes it easier to predict needed parts for repairs and maintain inventory levels.
[caption id="attachment_234277" align="alignleft" width="300"] The New Castle shop includes all matters of repair and maintenance for EVs, including a paint shop. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
Right now, Evolve has about 30 employees who earn a minimum of $18 an hour, but many who earn more than $100,000 a year with training. Sweigart said they don’t look to convert traditional auto mechanics – although some have – but rather look for candidates with the right attitude and problem-solving skills. Many of Evolve’s first employees had no auto repair experience, but they’ve developed a mentor program and a curriculum that will teach them the necessary skills.“We are a process-centered business. There's standardized work for everything, and everyone ultimately learns how to improve the work,” Sweigart added.The company is inundated with customers coming from a 100-mile radius, and they will likely soon add more staff. Sweigart said they see monthly revenue of about $500,000 – more than the average auto repairer makes in a year – and estimates that company could see upward of $25 million per Evolve location in the future.The serial entrepreneur is already envisioning growth of the Evolve brand with a second location to serve the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore market.
[caption id="attachment_234275" align="alignright" width="300"] The battery for a Tesla encompasses the entire underbelly the vehicle and costs upward of $20,000, requiring special certification and training to work on it. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
After that, he could see locations in southeastern Florida or Nashville – likely staying east of the Mississippi River where EVs are growing in number but the service market is still maturing, he said. Over five years, Sweigart said he could envision opening as many as 30 Evolve locations based on current market conditions.The New Castle facility may expand its footprint if Evolve ends up negotiating a repair contract for Amazon’s fleet of Rivian vans, Sweigart said, but those discussions are still ongoing.For New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer, who visited Evolve on Wednesday in recognition of the company’s first anniversary, Evolve could be a key part of the EV market moving forward.“Like it or not, the economy is changing and there are people whose careers and jobs are threatened, which is discouraging and a little scary for a lot of people in our community,” he said. “Someone's going to win in the next generation of technologies, so it's exciting to be here at Evolve because they are winning the future.”
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