The Future of Automotive HVAC Technology: A Conversation with Evan Cloutier

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It’s really important to stay up-to-date with the new style systems because HVAC is both heating and air conditioning…You have to be able to work with both systems to be able to understand the full system together.

Evan Cloutier, Automotive HVAC Professional (Springfield, OR)

Throughout history, a major focus of technology has been meeting calls for convenience with more efficient and versatile machines. A key facet of such pushes has been seen in the area of climate control, particularly when it comes to vehicles.

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning professionals must stay up-to-date on all industry standards, certifications, and advancements. Each time a new interior climate control feature becomes standardized across the automotive sector, for example, the technicians who service and maintain those systems in cars, trucks, and vans must reskill and become experts on those updates. As automotive HVAC systems grow increasingly more complex, so too will the set of skills and know-how required to repair and care for them.

This article is a guide to education, skilling, and equipment in the automatic HVAC industry. We’ve done our best to include all pertinent information for those curious about automotive HVAC tech career outlook and those positions’ necessary skills, as well. Evan Cloutier, an automotive HVAC technician at Sun Automotive in Springfield, Oregon, was kind enough to discuss with us the current state of the industry, finer details about skilling and certification, and the future of HVAC in personal and commercial vehicles.

There are numerous factors that have and will continue to affect the expansion of the automotive HVAC field, including the prevalence of and push for automatic climate control and thermal systems. These advancements signal how quickly the use of personal vehicles is on the rise, especially in urban locations and city centers. Additionally, in areas outside of major metropolitan regions, External vectors such as global warming and fluctuating legislation complicate roll-outs of HVAC technology that meets EPA standards while also being high-powered enough to entice drivers.

The Field of Automotive HVAC Technologies

Automotive HVAC systems are used for controlling the climate and temperature of the cabin of the vehicle. According to a comprehensive market analysis and industry forecast published by Allied Market Research, the automotive HVAC market is expected to experience a compound annual growth rate of 8.9 percent during the six-year period between 2016 to 2022—a projected $22.8 billion by 2022.

Air conditioning in vehicles can be traced all the way back to 1939, when car company Packard first installed a manual climate control in one of their models. Though it was rudimentary by today’s standards, it eventually led other companies to innovate and build their own proto HVAC systems. Chrysler unveiled its own prototypical system in 1953, which was followed by the Nash Ambassador in 1954—the first true automotive HVAC system.

Evan Cloutier, an automotive HVAC technician at Sun Automotive in Springfield, Oregon, spoke with us about the ins and outs of the industry, as well as offering a break down of what automotive HVAC entails.

“HVAC has to deal with the whole heating and cooling system of the vehicle, of the interior of the vehicle,” says Cloutier. “It’s creature comfort. That’s going to be the heat out of your vents, defrost, and your air conditioning.” Its three subsystems of heating, cooling, and air conditioning work in tandem to make sure that customers have the utmost control over the climate of their cabin and are provided clean air via ventilation. Monitoring systems of sensors help the vehicle’s central processing unit relay diagnostic information to dashboard display.

Other functions of HVAC systems in vehicles include a thermostat regulating temperature, and sensors that control moisture and humidity values in your car’s cabin. Other common features include thermal systems control, seat- and location-specific heating and cooling, and automatic defrost settings utilizing fogging sensors. The individual systemic components in automotive HVAC systems include the evaporator, condenser, compressor, expansion device, receiver, and drier.

In the 21st century, a significant portion of automotive HVAC market growth is driven by the yearly introduction of new features and creature comforts, in addition to greater concern for sustainability and energy efficiency. Technologically, automotive HVAC is divided into the categories of manual and automatic. When looking at HVAC market segmentation, two distinctions are made between vehicles: passenger vehicles and commercial vehicles. The commercial category is further subdivided into LCV (light commercial vehicles) and HCV (heavy commercial vehicles).

Automotive HVAC Education, Training, Certification & Equipment

The heating and air conditioning systems in a vehicle are distinct but interrelated, requiring specialized skilling, training, and certification. “It’s really important to stay up-to-date with the new style systems,” says Cloutier. “Because HVAC is both heating and air conditioning, it’s right there in the name of it. You have to be able to work with both systems to be able to understand the full system together. The newest systems would be in cars like, say, the newer Fords and other newer vehicles where it has dual climate control. So not only can the passenger have their own temperature on their side, but the driver can have their own climate as well.”

Seat- and location-specific climate control is just one example of how the HVAC field must always upgrade its response to the introduction of new creature comforts and advances in environmental control.

An important component of a comprehensive approach to heating and air conditioning in vehicles is certification through the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence or ASE. The organization has granted its certified Blue Seal to over 300,000 automotive professionals across the country. It breaks the vehicle down into eight areas. Vehicle HVAC systems interact with all of these areas, making them perhaps the most crucial mechanism for driver and passenger comfort.

“An ASE certification in HVAC is a big step, but not only that, you need to be 609-HVAC certified, which is through the EPA, which basically says that you know how to handle freon,” says Cloutier. “That’s a major component of the AC system. In fact, it’s even an open book test. You can take it at multiple different locations all across the country, and you can do it on EPATest.com. Many community colleges offer courses that help you learn about vehicular systems and the interior of their HVAC systems via both distance learning and classroom courses.

Automotive maintenance and repair require extensive training in all working components of passenger and commercial vehicles, respectively. There are many mechanical systems that ensure a vehicle is operable, but those related to HVAC are often prioritized because they entail the comfort of those who have purchased the vehicle. As the climate continues to change, what was once considered only an optional automatic HVAC feature might now be seen as necessary. For example, as machine learning becomes more intuitive and advancements in HVAC systems enable users to better control their environments, vehicles will be able to diagnose precisely what the vehicle needs in order to maintain a comfortable cabin environment.

“In automotive HVAC the most critical piece of equipment to our ability to do anything would be our evacuation machine, which does evacuation, recovery, and recharge,” says Cloutier. “It has a scale, a vacuum pump, a receiver-dryer, all built into one machine.” One of the highest-rated companies that manufactures these high-tech, fully automatic units is Robinair.

“A major part for us is a scan tool,” says Cloutier. “A lot of newer cars are going to have a perfectly fine AC system, but if there’s something mechanically wrong with the engine, the computer will actually disable the AC system from functioning. A good scan tool helps to identify problems in new systems. For example, with stop-start technology, where a car auto-stops when you pull up to a light, having the AC on can actually disable that.”

Looking Forward: The Future of Automotive HVAC Technology

Along with the previously mentioned report from Allied Market Research, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent figures on the rise of the automotive HVAC industry paint a picture of a field ripe with opportunity. As HVAC systems develop parallel to new, greener technologies, the demand will undoubtedly increase for features once considered luxurious or non-essential. The usage of personal vehicles has also shown no sign of letting up, meaning that a commensurate growth rate for the number of standard automotive HVAC features will almost certainly emerge.

“That’s part of the programming that’s built into most of these newer computers,” says Cloutier. “This is meant to save energy. It’s a fuel consumption thing. If the motor’s not running at a stoplight, you’re not consuming any fuel. Start-stop technology is one of the leading things in our industry, and it has changed a lot of the way we do business.”

Due to the projected growth of the American middle class and related income levels per capita, more and more consumers are concerned with comfort than ever before. In fact, the time spent in cars by Americans totaled 70 billion hours in 2018, so it should come as no surprise that in these economic circumstances HVAC in cars will also trend upwards. This trend typically results in more funding for research and development to augment or enhance fuel and chemical usage. This is spurred on largely in part by planetwide initiatives to educate the populace about ways to lessen their reliance on outdated and wasteful system, which will ideally lead to further efficiency-centric policy making for the energy sector.

As it currently stands, North America and Latin America lead the world in automotive HVAC production and innovation. In recent years, automobile manufacturing companies have begun to expand their portfolios, acquiring a wide variety of companies, expanding manufacturing facilities, and investing capital in lobbying and ad campaigns to increase awareness about the

As data documenting a rise in annual global temperature mounts, it seems to suggest that more control over the ambient temperature inside passenger and commercial vehicles will come to be the focus of the auto HVAC features market. Additionally, the introduction of more environmentally-friendly and sustainable refrigerants and coolants helps to drive the demand for systems that better utilize them.

Kenneth Parker

A graduate of the University of Oregon, Kenneth Parker is sometimes a musician and rarely a poet. His work spans copy editing, featuring writing, and dissertation development.

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