Vehicle complexity and training were the two main challenges members of a panel discussion held at the Collision Industry Conference last week in Palm Springs, Calif., said lie ahead for the collision repair industry.
Members of the panel included: Guy Bargnes of Bargnes Associates; Randy Hanson, auto director for Allstate; John Edelen, president and CEO of I-CAR; Aaron Clark, president of Collision Solutions, Indianapolis, Ind.; and Roger Foss, national manager for Toyota Motor Sales USA.
Body shop owner Clark said increasing vehicle complexity is the primary thing that keeps him up at night.
“I worry about repair liability,” he said. “I’m an independent repairer and I can’t gain information on Mercedes, Porsches, Jaguars and Land Rovers. I have to watch the car go to another facility. It’s disappointing that the training isn’t open for these vehicles.”
Making sure technicians do what they’re trained to do is also a major concern for Clark: “Company A says this needs to be done, but Company B says it shouldn’t be done that way. It becomes very confusing with all the different things OEMs say, especially when we get into a large repair. The chance of you doing something incorrect becomes greater, and having the personnel on the floor to police repairs properly is tough.”
Clark also remarked that it’s becoming more difficult to gain new customers, especially since traditional marketing doesn’t work as well as it did in the past. And the number of claim management software applications has his head swimming.
“I’ve seen at least a half dozen of these in the last few years,” Clark said. “It makes it difficult to train existing staff, or if I have turnover, I then have to train people on all these different claims and estimating systems. If this trend continues, we will stop focusing on the car. If I’m running around making sure estimates are being done properly, it takes my eye off the shop floor.”
I-CAR’s Edelen also expressed concerns about vehicle complexity and collision repair shops’ inability to pay for proper training due to profit margins under pressure.
“So there will continue to be an underinvestment in technical development,” Edelen said. “That, combined with the workforce we have access to, the education level of that workforce and the salary level that segment is willing to work for, doesn’t create a very pretty picture.”
Roger Foss of Toyota said increasingly complex vehicles will have more of an impact on mechanical shops than collision, specifically considering the variation of hybrids now being introduced to the market. But collision, he said, will also be impacted by the continued use of high-strength steel and other exotic materials, which will be difficult to identify and repair.
“The trickle-down effect is how do we communicate that effectively to the people who are repairing our cars?” Foss said, adding that 80 percent of Toyota vehicles are repaired by independent repairers.
Allstate’s Randy Hanson echoed the concern about technology, saying that product innovation is happening at a “staggering pace” and wondering how the industry will keep up with training to be able to address those innovations when they hit the market. He also expressed worry about repairers looking for legislative solutions to their problems.
“I believe 95 percent of the problems we address can be solved by the people in this room, yet we don’t have those discussions,” Hanson said. “A lot of [legislators] have no idea what our industry is about.”
Edelen concurred with Hanson, saying that having the government come in and fix all of the collision repair industry’s problems is going to accelerate shops toward licensing and certification.
“God forbid some politician will decide what training we should have and what standards we should live to,” he said. “If we don’t embrace the opportunity we have to solve our own problems, that’s what’s going to happen.”
Guy Bargnes, representing industry suppliers, listed the unsettled economy, reduced repair volume, decreased miles driven, an aging car population, rapid consolidation in all segments, and high unemployment as factors complicating business today. Suppliers, he said, are facing the same challenges as collision repair facilities: reduced margins, reduced profitability and overcapacity.
“How are we going to meet market demand without impacting product quality and product offering?” Bargnes asked. “And how are we going to retain customers and develop new customers but avoid commoditization and making price a differentiator? The solution is strategic partnering between distinct segments that will drive growing customer activity so the supply chain works uniformly and brings customer value.”
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