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Collision Industry Conference Hosts Body Shop Certification Panel

Certification is taking off like wildfire as more and more automakers are taking more of a stake in how their vehicles are repaired once out of the factory.

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Jason Stahl has 26 years of experience as an editor, and has been editor of BodyShop Business for the past 14 years. He currently is a gold pin member of the Collision Industry Conference. Jason, who hails from Cleveland, Ohio, earned a bachelor of arts degree in English from John Carroll University and started his career in journalism at a weekly newspaper, doing everything from delivering newspapers to selling advertising space to writing articles.

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(Left to right) Mark Allen of Audi, Clint Marlow of Allstate and Scott Biggs of Assured Performance participate in the certification panel.

The Collision Industry Conference (CIC) has always aimed to tackle topical issues of the day in the collision repair industry, and the meeting at NACE | CARS  was no exception as they put body shop certification in their crosshairs.

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Certification is taking off like wildfire as more and more automakers are taking more of a stake in how their vehicles are repaired once out of the factory. They want to protect their brand by ensuring that their highly sophisticated vehicles are repaired back to their own specifications.

The panelists consisted of: David Parzen, senior technical project manager for NSF; Scott Biggs, CEO of Assured Performance; Mark Allen, manager of collision and equipment for Audi; John Eck, manager, wholesale channel for GM; and Clint Marlow, senior manager, claims strategy for Allstate.

Moderator Lou DiLisio started off by asking whether OE certification was good or bad for the industry.

Scott Biggs remarked how certification is completely transforming the collision repair industry for the better.

“Certification is literally transforming the industry at an amazing rate,” he said. “Shops are getting more training than ever before, and the ripple effect is incredible. And we’re just at the beginning of how this will benefit a lot of people.”

Clint Marlow of Allstate commented, “It’s logical for the consumer to go back to the factory or OE for questions, but it would be bad to have 25 different sets of standards.”

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NSF’s David Parzen thinks certification is great, stating, “Different shops have different capabilities and different quality levels, and the mechanism of certification can determine what shop is capable of what.”

John Eck of GM said he didn’t know if it’s good or bad, but he did know one thing. “OEs are concerned for the safety of their vehicles. And the longevity on the road is getting longer. You have to be aware of consumer loyalty, and the big factor is satisfaction with the vehicle. OEs are just waking up to that. The consumer is the focus at GM, and safety is paramount.”

Mark Allen declined to say whether certification is good or bad but rather characterized it as “necessary.”

“We do things in a very specific way. There is great complexity of engineering going into cars today. Insurers are telling us to be safer, and the government is telling us to reduce fuel consumption. It’s really showing the way of where we’re going. Welcome to the future. It’s far from your granddad’s Oldsmobile.

“If you look at how the auto industry interacted with the collision industry 15 years ago, it was very little. Now we’re all sitting in a room talking on how to repair a car. You will see more of this.”

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Allstate’s Marlow added, “It continues to evolve, but hopefully some of the requirements will become reciprocal to reduce the burden on repair facilities and not force them to have a wall of welders and rivet guns.”

Audi’s Allen offered a counterpoint to Marlow’s statement, adding, “I hear that I don’t need a wall of riveters, but 15 year ago cars were made of mild steel. What are they made of today? There are different types of steel, aluminum, etc. We use aerospace grade aluminum and carbon fiber, and there are different pieces of equipment designed and tested for this. And we crash test so we know what the repeatable outcomes are. We know what works.”

Biggs remarked how far the industry has come since the economic downturn seven years ago.

“In 2010, there was a crisis, but we have now made huge inroads that has impacted less than 10 percent of all shops,” Biggs said. “But now you have new technology coming out every month and every year requiring shops to be able to repair it.

Having a mechanism to determine who can repair that is absolutely essential, so I see more of the same coming in the future.”

Biggs also addressed repairers’ concern for having to have multiple different types of expensive equipment to handle repairing today’s modern vehicles, saying his organization, Assured Performance, has worked to avoid that with their program.

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“We built our program around OE specs. We said, let’s focus on specs. What performance does that equipment need to have versus what brand it needs to be? The idea was to eliminate brand, so we standardized the requirement of several OEs. We also set out to mitigate cost and allow shops to get ‘certified once, recognized by many.’”

Marlow offered the insurance perspective, stating he was very concerned about costs being passed along to the consumer. But Biggs offered another perspective.

“What’s the cost of not complying?” he said. “There have been a whole lot of bad repairs and liability settlements out there for years. It’s a drop in the bucket compared to the investment in training and equipment. You’ll have to incur equipment costs anyway. The cost of the vehicle is higher too, and the life of the vehicle is longer. It’s a whole different dynamic.”

Added Mark Allen, “How much does it cost for you to be professional and stay in the industry? How much will it cost for you to settle that death case? Insurers come to my training because they want a quality product. The people here at his meeting have to go out and share this info with other shops and ask them, ‘Are your customers worthless to you?’”

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