Collision repair industry must get into overdrive to keep up with new technologies

The global collision repair industry must change into overdrive to try and keep up with the pace of recent developments in the technologies employed in the current crop of cars.

Brian Joss – This was evident from the far-ranging subjects that were discussed at the recent Collision Repairers’ Association (CRA) conference at Automechanika Johannesburg and the fact that the attendance was double that of a similar conference two years ago.

This was the fifth time that an Automechanika trade fair for the automotive aftermarket has been staged in South Africa. Body repair was once again a major feature of the exhibition. Many of the latest tools and equipment used in the body repair industry were displayed at this four-day, biennial business-to-business show, held at the Johannesburg Expo Centre, Nasrec, ranging from the latest spray booths to specialised paint spray guns.

Steve Kessel: chief operating officer, Collision Repairers Association, addressing the conference. Picture: Quickpic

The impressive line-up of speakers at this well-attended CRA conference included two keynote speeches delivered by David Lingham, Head of Business at Fix Auto World, and Andrew Marsh, Engineering Director, Automotive Industry Consulting, both from the United Kingdom.

Lingham spoke about both repairers and insurers worldwide being under cost pressures as new technologies pushed up the price of repairs, while insurers tried to keep premiums affordable. He said that the average net profit made by repairers in the United Kingdom was in the region of only 3 percent while the many new technologies used in the latest vehicles required huge investments in new repair equipment.

Lingham added that both repairers and insurers also faced higher service demands from customers, especially the millennials. This made the repairers position even more difficult because customer care and trust by customers are vital for the sustainability of these businesses and conflict needs to be avoided at all costs.

Andrew Marsh, who has visited South Africa many times to address body repair conferences, spoke on the challenges of new technologies for repairers, with special focus on the sensors and cameras used for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) which are being built into an increasing number of vehicles these days. These aids include adaptive cruise control, reversing and self-parking systems, lane departure warning and automatic braking.

Here the big challenge is the refocusing that these sensors and cameras require after repair work. This can include the employment of technology specialists and buying expensive equipment, so panel shops must decide if they are going to provide this service to customers or get the franchised dealerships to undertake this work.

One positive about refocusing these driver assistance components is that the task is getting simpler as time goes on, with focusing of the latest models being far more automated than the earlier systems and therefore simpler to perform.

Marsh added that the cost of windscreens was also going up as they are used for mounting radar, sensors, and cameras, which will also make it very difficult for aftermarket suppliers to provide and fit these highly specialised replacements.

Hennie Nortje, of Old Mutual Insure, had the opportunity to put the case for the motor insurance industry in South Africa and he said they were having a tough time with a virtually static vehicle parc and only about 30 percent of the vehicles on the road being insured.

Ian Groat, publisher of Automotive Refinisher magazine and one of the organisers of the CRA conference at Automechanika Johannesburg, rounded off the interesting series of presentations with an overview of the global and local economic environments and the rapidly changing face of the motor industry.

Groat’s rapid fire information flow included the fact that the Chinese had totally changed the face of the global motor industry as its vehicle parc grew 347 percent in the past ten years and it is now the biggest market in the world.

Other interesting information was the fact that there are now 1.500 steel alloys and more than 40 aluminium alloys used in building vehicles, which make after-market repairs more difficult as well as requiring repairers to buy expensive specialised equipment.

Another surprising fact was that more than 100 companies in South Africa now offered motor vehicle insurance, making this a cut-throat business with widely varying levels of service.

Groat conc;uded: “Take up the digital challenge or die,” which was a fitting summary of the current state in all aspects of the global motor industry.

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