The Quality Parts Coalition (QPC) says that repairers it talked to at the recent International Autobody Congress and Exposition (NACE) expressed their concern that a car company “monopoly” in the collision repair parts market could harm the future vitality of the industry, especially in light of recent economic turmoil.
“Consumers are doing all they can to maximize their dollars, and one way they have found is driving less,” said Don Feeley, owner of City Body & Frame in Riverside, Calif. “Fewer cars on the road translates into fewer collisions. But when customers do find themselves needing repairs after a fender bender, they’re even more concerned about the rising costs of repair, and many are asking their body shop professionals about alternative repair options.”
Stacy Bartnik, assistant vice president and director of field services for CARSTAR, commented, “We haven’t seen a marked slowdown in our shops because consumers know they need to keep their vehicles in working order. But customers depend on independent repairers to carry affordable alternative parts for necessary repairs. If we’re unable to supply our customers with what they need at a price they can afford, a car company monopoly may well have a huge negative impact on our business.”
The QPC believes that the impact of the economic downturn on repairers and their customers will worsen if the number of design patents granted to car companies for crash parts continues to grow. According to the QPC, that number has grown to about 20 to 25 percent of the total U.S. patents awarded to those manufacturers. The QPC also says that crash parts account for 50 to 98 percent of the U.S. design patents awarded to major automobile manufacturers.
The QPC contends that, after losing their attempt at a supposed “monopoly” in Congress in the 1990s, the car companies shifted their strategy to the forum of the International Trade Commission (ITC), where the QPC believes they’re looking to eliminate competition by solidifying 14-year design patents.
In May 2008, Ford Global Technologies filed a Section 337 complaint at the ITC against manufacturers and U.S. distributors of automotive collision repair parts on the 2005 Ford Mustang. This complaint came on the heels of another ruling in favor of Ford which protected parts for the 2004-2007 F-150s.
The QPC is urging the nation’s lawmakers to endorse “repair clause” legislation championed by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) in the 110th Congress that it says will secure the future of the American independent repair industry.
The QPC represents a consortium of independent parts and insurance companies committed to preserving and protecting the benefits of a competitive marketplace when repairing damaged vehicles. For more information, visit www.qualitypartscoalition.com.