As I-CAR celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, we thought it only fitting to provide some insight into the organization’s natal beginnings.
Things remained fairly static within the collision industry from its start in the early ‘40s up through the ‘70s. And whatever changes occurred did so at a pace that was easy to keep up with. But several industry leaders, the visionaries, could see things would soon change---and at a rapid pace.
With the introduction of the unibody vehicle in 1979/1980, cars were becoming more sophisticated. While paint technology had changed somewhat, and car-building had certainly changed, “body men” were still applying the same repair techniques they had used since the end of WWII.
And, it appeared to most that unless someone or some organization took the reins and forced change, shops would soon be incapable of making safe repairs.
In April 1979, Bob McDonnough of IDEA invited several industry leaders to meet at the Hilton Hotel at the San Francisco airport and began to devise a plan.
The group was composed of Dan Murray from General Motors; a representative from Ford; Bud Merwin representing Automotive Service Association (ASA); Gordon Holcomb, president of the Automotive Legislative Council of America; Jeff Hendler, executive director of the Autobody Craftsman Association; Donn Prover from the Equipment and Tool Institute; Bob Foote, president of Applied Power Corporation representing Blackhawk tools and equipment; a representative from the National Association of Independent Insurers; and Bob Mecherle, grandson of State Farm founder George Mecherle, representing State Farm Insurance, along with an array of shop owners and other interested parties.
The first thing they all agreed on was that collision technicians needed better repair information---and a lot more of it. If a vehicle had to be fixed a certain way, the OE had to let the industry know it and make the information readily available. The question was: What was the best way to do that?
Of course, each party had its own interests throughout the discussions. It was noted that several insurance representatives only wanted to find a way to make cheaper repairs.
Bob Mecherle realized that the discussions were not about “cheap” but how to perform a proper repair and address the changing technology.
Murray was a key party to the affair because he had recently returned from a two-year stint working for General Motors in Germany, where the collision repair business had advanced considerably further than the U.S.In Germany and all over Europe, unibody construction had been used for several years, so equipment manufacturers and technicians had advanced considerably. The Europeans had also found a better, more complete way of estimating by dis-assembling the vehicle and finding all the hidden damage at the outset, rather than submitting multiple supplements or having the vehicle go out improperly repaired.
In November of 1979, a meeting of 40 invited industry leaders was held in Des Plaines, IL, where after much discussion and planning, more than 30 shop owners and associations, along with State Farm, provided enough seed money to start a nonprofit company that would train collision technicians on how to properly repair collision damage. The entity they founded was the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair, then known as IICACR and now known simply as I-CAR. Then-chairman of the newly formed training organization was Arthur C. Mertz.
Murray was a key figure in providing some the earliest training curriculum for the newly formed I-CAR and left General Motors in 1986 to start his own consulting company.
The formation of I-CAR and the almost-overnight change from body-on-frame technology to unibody technology marked the beginning of a new era in the collision industry.
For over 30 years, since GIs returned from the European and Pacific theaters of operation in 1946 up to the late ‘70s, little changed in the industry. Eventually, more dramatic changes would come, and at a quicker pace. The industry would never be the same. But I-CAR would be there to help shops through the technology of the future.