DAILY NEWS Jan 30, 2013 10:38 AM - 0 comments

Collision repair centres grapple with vehicle electronics, lightweight materials

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By: Greg Meckbach, Associate Editor

Vehicle electronic systems, lightweight materials and collision avoidance systems will be challenging to insurers and the repair shops who fix damaged vehicles, speakers at two recent conferences suggest.


Moreover, a slight majority of professionals attending last Saturday's Canadian Collision Industry Forum (CCIF) indicated that insurance claims and collision repair staff are not getting the right information to assess vehicle damage.

CCIF, which was held at the Toronto Airport Marriott and attracted about 300 people, included audience surveys.

Matthew Ohrnstein, managing director of Irvine, Calif.-based Symphony Advisors LLC, asked the audience: "Do insurance claims and collision repair personnel have timely, accurate, actionable, technical repair methodology available to properly asses and repair vehicle damage?"

Fifty-five per cent of audience members said no and 45% said yes. 

"Considering that everybody in this room is in the business of repairing cars and restoring lives ... back to their normal flow, that's a fairly poor assessment," Ohrnstein said during a presentation titled "The Collision Repair Industry: North American Landscape."

"If I asked a room of physicians who are all heart surgeons, 'Does everybody know the proper methodology to do bypass surgery,’ and 45% said yes and 55% said no, that would be a little bit disconcerting. So let's do something about that."

During a panel discussion at CCIF, one collision repair executive suggested the increased use of lightweight materials, such as aluminum and carbon fibre, are having a significant impact on repair shops fixing vehicles damaged in accidents.

"I don't think a lot of people realize what investment is required to participate at this level," said Flavio Battilana, chief operating officer of CSN Collision & Glass. "For those of you who have aluminum rooms, for those of you who become Toyota-certified, congratulations to you. It's a significant accomplishment."

For Prochilo Brothers, which runs three centres in Toronto, one of its greatest concerns is complying with the certification standards of original equipment (OE) manufacturers, suggested owner Paul Prochilo, who was also on the CCIF panel.


"We have five satellite facilities and production facilities that are inside our dealerships, so we ... understand that OE certification is going to be a real game changer," Prochilo said. "Manufacturers are becoming more and more innovative and it's going to require more specialized personnel to be repairing these vehicles, and that's going to be a tremendous challenge for pretty much everyone in the business."

Electronics systems are also increasing complexity for collision centres.

"One day we're probably going to have to have an (information technology technician) on staff just to deal with the vehicles," said Battilana.

The introduction of collision avoidance systems will have an impact on vehicle claims, suggested a speaker at a different conference, also held at the Toronto Airport Marriott, on Friday.

Mike Anderson, vice president of data and analytics for Audatex, citied as an example Chrysler Group LLC's Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, which has a camera on the front bumper.

"It's great technology when you see what it does relative to the avoidance of collisions, but boy it's expensive when that has to get repaired."

Anderson made his remarks during Audavision, organized by San Diego-based Audatex, which makes software for auto insurance. He said automobile manufacturers have an "increased propensity" to use lighter materials such as aluminum, plastics and carbon fibre, in order to provide better fuel efficiency, but that could drive up prices for the raw materials.

"We are all competing for the same materials," Anderson said, referring to an increased demand by manufacturers operating in India and China. "Will this technology impact vehicle loss frequency? It probably will. It will take some time."

Some of the new technologies, especially carbon fibre, are "scary," said Sam Piercey, vice president and general manager of Budds' Collision Services Ltd. of Oakville, Ont., which is a certified aluminum repair facility for high-end vehicles, including BMW.

"You're going to have to figure out how you're going to fix it and if you can't you're going to have to pass it off," Piercey said Saturday at CCIF.

CCIF audience members had been asked to identify their top three priorities from eight listed on a presentation slide. Respondents were not asked to rank them.

Thirty-four per cent said vehicle technology, repairability and OE certification were among their top three priorities.

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