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Friday, 31 May 2019 16:47

Truck Topics: The HD Collision Market – Challenges and Opportunities

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Most people in the auto collision industry agree that the collision industry was born around 1946.

It was during this time that service men and women were returning from the European and the Pacific theater of operations. A lot of these men and women did not have existing jobs to return to, so they would start their own business. Oftentimes, it would be an auto and collision repair business.

 

During the 1960s, each shop was on its own. Shop owners worked independently with little to no input from other shop owners, associations or industry leaders. No one knew what was going on in the industry, because there was no means of communication.

 

It seems as though the HD collision market is facing similar challenges the industry faced over 70 years ago. However, there are a few distinct differences.

 

First, at the time, there were fewer HD shops than auto shops. Unlike the auto shops that seemed to be at war with everyone, the truck shops seem to want to work together. The size of the market and the desire to work together should help push the industry along at a quicker pace.

 

Chris Sterwerf is an industry leader who argues that HD shops work better together. Shops should cooperate and speak up when needed, he said.

 

“Shops must paint a clear picture to vendors, equipment providers, OEMs and information providers on what is needed to make sure these behemoths operate safely,” said Sterwerf, chief finance and operations officer for Fairfield Auto and Truck Service in Fairfield, Ohio.

 

Sterwerf, chairman of TMC’s Heavy Duty Collision Repair Guideline Task Force, mentioned that in the past, HD shops rarely shared information with competitors.

 

“Car shops tended to collaborate with shops out of their market area,” he said. “HD 20 Groups and the HD Repair Forum are now helping to connect the dots to give HD shops the megaphone that has been needed for decades.

 

Technology is pushing the HD collision industry along and it won’t wait.


Repairers won’t have years to catch up. Training is paramount and needed now. ADAS systems are installed on the majority of new Class 8 and 9 trucks and they need repair and recalibration. All-electric trucks are now operating on our highways. An inexperienced or untrained technician, making the wrong move, working on such a truck could injure or kill the technician, Sterwerf said.

 

“CNG, LNG, Hydrogen and Propane are explosive fuels that shops need to be trained on to keep employees, property and neighbors safe,” he added. “ELD (Electronic Log Data) equipment and tracking can be difficult to deal with. Safety systems must be integrated with the tractor/power unit from the trailer and, or utility bodies. HD collision technicians need to know how to deal with these systems.”

 

Here are a few other challenges and opportunities HD shops create.

 

Challenge: Within the HD collision world, there is little to no formal training available.

 

Opportunity: I-CAR has created new training content. I-CAR has also adapted existing training materials to accommodate the HD collision world. In April, Penske Collision Repair in Norcross, GA, became the first HD shop to achieve Gold Class status. It is now up to the industry to support I-CAR’s efforts, allowing them to grow and expand.

 

“It might be possible to get collaboration between I-CAR, ASE and TMC, so the wheel doesn’t have to be reinvented, possibly creating delegations from various associations,” Sterwerf said. “The HD Repair Forum could also guide policy, creating organizations like I-CAR or TMC to create training for HD repairers.”

 

Challenge: According to some in the trucking industry, ADAS systems threaten to make trucks completely autonomous—eliminating drivers and making accidents almost non-existent—greatly reducing the need for HD collision shops.

 

Opportunity: In her address to the HD Repair Forum held in April in Fort Worth, Texas, Susan Alt, senior vice president of public affairs for Volvo, said fully autonomous cars and trucks of sci-fi movies will be a long time coming, if ever. Alt said airplanes have had autopilot since the 1940s; yet, we still have pilots.


Trains run on a very narrow pathway and can operate with little or no human intervention. However, engineers still are needed when negotiating populated areas or rail-switching yards. In addition, trucks can operate with little to no driver assistance on open highways; but, in a construction zone, warehouse yard or loading yard, a driver is still needed. The opportunity to make collision repairs will still exist, but the nature of the repairs will change. Gone will be the horrific crashes creating bent and twisted frames; much of the damage will be small. The biggest challenge will be the proper replacement of sensors, cameras, etc. to allow the ADAS system to operate properly.

 

“Mother Nature—weather, animals, road infrastructure, etc.—still damages vehicles and creates the need for HD shops,” Sterwerf added. “These trucks will always need corrosion protection and reimaging—operations performed by HD body shops.”

 

Challenge: Communication and cohesiveness between HD shops, except for shops operating in the same city, seem to be lacking. There is a gap both in communication among shops and a lack of knowledge about what is happening within the industry.

 

Opportunity: The auto side of the collision industry operated the same way from 1946 to the early 1960s. Three things happened almost simultaneously to promote communication and cohesion within the industry. One, trade magazines began to emerge giving the industry a voice. Two, trade associations began to emerge to represent an industry as a unit and three, leaders within the industry began to emerge. On the HD side, AutoBody News has begun to bring you news of the industry. It is one column per month, but it’s a start. Trade Associations such as the TMC has begun to recognize the collision side of the business. Leaders like Joey Fassett and Chris Sterwerf have begun making strides towards consistent and safe collision repairs.

 

Challenge: Currently, no codified collision repair procedures exist for the HD market, which is dangerous. Some shops may be making safe repairs, but others may not. Ultimately, the shop is responsible for the repairs they make and any subsequent problems that may arise.


An example of this is exemplified in the following case. On October 2, 2017, a Texas jury awarded Matthew and Marcia Seebachan a $42M settlement for the botched repair on their Honda Fit. Repair procedures from Honda existed, but the shop chose to ignore them. Had they followed the correct procedure and the car crashed with the same or similar result, chances are there would have been no lawsuit.

 

Opportunity: Every HD shop has the opportunity to work with and support the TMC’s HD Collision Task Force to create RP’s (Recommended Practices) for safe and complete HD collision repairs. Once these RP’s are established, it will be up to every shop owner to follow them and raise the repair standards within the industry.

 

Challenge: While several HD collision estimating systems exist, they all seem to be lacking parts and pricing information. During a panel discussion at the HD Repair Forum in Fort Worth, one shop owner said it could take him up to two weeks to get pricing and parts availability information from an OE dealer. Meanwhile, the truck is down, not generating any income for the company, exacerbating the cost of the repair. Also, some OE’s make parts pricing available online only to a select few independent shops, as determined by the OE dealer. Some OE’s make it available to anyone; some make it available to any estimate provider, while others do not.

 

Opportunity: Estimating information, including parts pricing and availability, is a basic tenet of collision repair. It should be a priority for all OE’s to provide this information to estimating companies, dealers and independent collision repair shops. The OE’s would do their customers great service by ensuring that their truck can be repaired in the least amount of time possible.

 

Challenge: After hearing several OE truck representatives speak about their current and future products, there is no question that Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) are installed on a majority of new trucks coming off the assembly line. Given their acceptance within the trucking community amongst fleet owners, managers and safety officials, these systems will soon be on every new truck, retrofitted to some older fleets and become more integrated into existing systems. Trucking and HD truck repair is going to get more complicated.


 

Opportunity: The opportunity exists to create/grow a new kind of technician—someone who will learn ADAS systems and other new technology and will be able to repair, replace and recalibrate those systems. Performing these operations in-house will create a faster repair—saving time and money for your customer with less downtime for the truck. It could be a service element that separates your shop from every other shop.

 

The entire HD collision industry is sitting at the on-ramp of the next phase of the industry’s growth. There are plenty of opportunities to “grab a gear” and move forward.

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