Taking the time to mentally reinvest in your business, attend hands-on training and understand your shop’s limitations can all help you run a successful collision repair facility, according to Mark Allen, collision programs manager for Audi USA.
During a recent Guild 21 podcast sponsored by Verifacts Automotive, Allen shared insight on Audi’s certification program and the importance of staying up-to-date on OEM repair procedures.
Guild 21: Audi vehicles must be repaired by OEM-certified shops. What process do you recommend shops use to obtain equipment that is approved for use in the Audi certification program?
Allen: Volkswagen Group of America represents Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Ducati motorcycles, Lamborghini, Porsche and Volkswagen. The equipment we certify is relevant within the house of Volkswagen.
It’s important to understand why certain pieces of equipment are certified over others, and it all comes down to the culture of the company. It is what makes an Audi an Audi and a Ford a Ford. To say brand X should look, smell and taste the same as brand Y is not a realistic comparison.
The realism of it is that there is a process that goes on about once a year, and also during the development of crash repair procedures. I know it seems like other welders should work with our vehicles, but there is a very strict process that welders go through. It’s the same with rivet guns. They are tested for strength and other parameters in Germany and then the research is submitted. The materials used to manufacture the vehicles are also factored in so that when the piece of equipment is checked, we are assured that it will do the job.
Guild 21: Can an Assured Performance Network shop be part of the Audi program?
Allen: In my opinion, there are three different types of certification. There’s the Audi program that is very much driven by repair procedures and dictates the tools, equipment and training used during the repair. On the other end of the spectrum, there are subscription-based certification programs where manufacturers form a network, but it’s not necessarily as stringent as ours. Then there are those I refer to as the “half-pregnants.” They are somewhat between where the Audi program is and where the Assured Performance shops are.
We try and pick partners who will work well with our dealers, and we predicate it on having the dealer form a relationship directly with the body shop rather than us assigning it to them. We also look at where the vehicle population lives and meet the needs of the people in those areas.
Guild 21: Does Audi require dealer sponsorship to join the certification program, given the lawsuit against Mercedes for the alleged dealer extortion, and are there any thoughts about changing this?
Allen: We’re always looking at how to do the best job for our customers. Our belief up to this point is that the dealer is in charge of their immediate area and is familiar with the customers there best. To have a sponsorship relationship between the dealership, whether it’s their own body shop or an independent repairer, is pretty important to give that level of care to the customer. We don't just look at it as a program. Realistically, the repairer is a key player in it and should work closely with the dealer.
It’s not predicated on parts sales. I tell everyone there’s nothing on my performance review that says to sell one more part or one more part dollar. I don’t believe that is what we are about. We are responsible to take care of the general health and welfare of the motoring public and make sure the repairs are done to meet a certain standard so they have the same safety afforded to them after the repair as the original structure. The parts are an organic side byproduct of that. However, that should not be a reason why we have sponsorship. It should be that customer retention---the customer care that goes on. Some of the best partners I have are independently owned body shops that serve our dealers.
The network doesn’t just serve our dealers. It is the practice and basic belief of Audi of America. Everyone who works for the company and has either a vehicle assigned to them or leased, goes to an Audi-certified repairer if they are in an accident---no questions asked.
If a vehicle is damaged in transportation, it goes to an Audi certified repairer. If there is a paint issue or warranty issue, it will go to an Audi certified repairer. We put our money where our mouth is. We make sure they go to those repairers.
Guild 21: What are your thoughts about the restricted parts for OEM certification?
Allen: Yes, we restrict parts and probably have the largest catalog of restricted parts based on technical competencies required to do those repairs and install those parts. I feel it is appropriate for our customers and if someone who was not certified does the repair, I couldn’t stand behind the structure, and would suggest rebranding and retitling the car by the person who did that repair.