At the risk of raising an uncomfortable topic, I’ve been thinking a lot lately that the industry may need a cautionary “be careful what you ask for” message.
Let me explain: When I look around the industry, I see some progressive shops doing what they need to do to succeed moving forward.
But I also see a lot of shops that are pretty complacent. They’re doing some training, maybe even working toward becoming Gold Class, and buying a piece of equipment or two to qualify for an OEM shop certification. They think that will be enough, and it may be enough to qualify them to get some work.
But, folks, this industry is moving so quickly that all of that is just the minimum. If you haven’t already started to do all that, I think the ship has already left the dock and you’re not on it. You may be able to get a running start and still be able to jump on, but that’s not a given. It’s going to take a significant investment in tooling and training to make that leap.
But even if you’ve done that minimum, is that really enough? If you’re going to fix a Honda, does taking I-CAR classes mean you should be fixing a Honda? I would argue you also need to take all the Honda training as well if you’re going to fix a Honda.
I recently was talking with some folks at GM who pointed out that their vehicles all have a minimum of six cameras. Those aren’t just cameras that display an image on the dash. They are actually interactive cameras, able to gauge distance and angle. So when you reinstall that side-view mirror after repairing a small dent in the door, you will need to recalibrate not only that camera, but all the others on that vehicle as well.
How many shops are doing that? How many shops don’t know that they’re supposed to be doing that?
And here’s where that connects to that “be careful what you wish for.” I’ve heard so many people in the industry say that OEM shop certification will become the “new DRP.” A lot of shops are saying, “We just need to get the insurance companies out of the mix so we can fix cars the way we’re support to fix cars: to OEM specifications.”
But what happens in that seemingly idyllic situation when the customer in a leased car that’s essentially owned and “insured” by the automaker comes in for repairs? Sure, that automaker’s procedure says you need to check all the seatbelts. But is it a given that automaker is going to pay you to do that?
Think about the growing number of automakers in (for now) limited markets operating vehicle subscription or car-sharing programs. I know a shop owner who is handling repairs for an automaker offering a car-sharing program in his market. It’s like a Zipcar or Car2Go program, where a user locates one of the automaker’s vehicles online, uses their mobile phone to unlock it and away they go.
So what happens when those cars get scratched or dinged (or worse)? The shop owner tells me he’s getting some pressure on costs from the automaker. After all, when that car is fixed, it’s going to be parked back out on the street awaiting its next driver. Is that driver going to first walk all around the vehicle to make sure the color matches and there’s not a tape line or two? They’re not. They’ll report major damage, but otherwise they’re not going to care about that.
Do the automakers want the cars fixed right? Of course they do. I’d argue that insurers do as well. But perhaps the only companies that know their numbers as well as insurance companies are the automakers. If they can save a nickel in a way they perceive as not harming a customer or their brand, they’re going to. They’re in a competitive industry.
So when I hear people arguing that the solution in our industry is for the automakers to become the next “bill-payer,” I find myself thinking, “Be careful what you wish for.”