Donation of new cars sparks excitement

The automotive technology department now has the chance to learn about high-voltage hybrids. (Austin Messick)

The Saddleback College automotive technologies department recently received three new cars to be used in lab activities, including two hybrids that were donated by Kia Motors in Irvine.

The donation included a 2011 Optima hybrid, 2010 Forte SX and a 2010 Forte hybrid, which totaled over $75,000. This gift presented the automotive technology department for the first time with its own two hybrid vehicles to be used as lab tools.

“I want [students] to have an industry experience here before they go to industry so they have the highest skills to be in the work place,” said Cliff Meyer automotive technologies instructor and department chair. “So when they leave here they can go to work at a dealership, independent shop, specialty shop or whatever and they have seen all of the current latest and greatest tools and equipment.”

With the addition of these new Kias, the automotive department now has about 20 cars built in 2005 and earlier, according to Meyer. Students will be able to work hands on with these new hybrid vehicles in Auto 220, alternative propulsion systems, which teaches students how to work on hybrid, electric, diesel and other new automotive technologies.

The 2011 Optima is not yet available for purchase in the U.S., so the department has a tool that not even the American public can buy yet, which gives students a chance to obtain real world experience working with the most current automotive technologies.

“You just can’t learn from books or videos, actually having a car here, especially one of [the Kias] that’s not even being sold in the U.S. at the moment, having that is phenomenal,” said Rajanpal Dhillon, 44, automotive technology.

Dhillon is training in the department to become a part-time instructor, and said students will learn how to disable a hybrid car, disable the power pack in the back, the difference in driving from a normal car, and how their regenerative braking works.

He explained that regenerative braking consists of small motors on the brakes that recycle the energy used for braking back into the engine to conserve power. He also explained that hybrid cars differ from normal cars because they run about 50 percent on electric power and 50 percent gas powered.

“It gives you a chance to work on [the hybrids] and learn how they operate, because there is such a lot of high voltage through the cars, so it’s good to learn them here because when you get out in the field you will know exactly what you’re dealing with,” said Aaron James, 45, automotive technology.

Meyer said that some hybrids carry over 400 volts, which is enough to kill someone if they make a serious mistake while working on them.

“You can’t guess, you can’t think you know it, you have to be competent and be absolutely sure about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it and that’s our job,” Meyer said.

Meyer stressed that having the most current vehicles and equipment helps the department to better prepare students to succeed in the workplace, and these new hybrids help to ready students for the future of the automotive industry.

“As you see gas prices go up and they’re not going to go down. You’ll see people [turning in] their SUVs in and going into hybrid vehicles,” Dhillon said. “I think you’ll see more and more workshops having to have people trained in hybrid vehicles, and as I think we’re the only college at the moment with the new hybrid vehicles that are coming from Kia, I think our students would be above most of their peers doing automotive at a different college.” 

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