Paul Massie, collision product marketing manager for Ford, acknowledged that Ford may have fallen behind other automakers in developing a certification or recognition program for independent shops. But it also is clearly the new F-150, an aluminum-intensive vehicle expected to hit showrooms in November 2014, that is behind Ford’s push to increase the number of body shops equipped and trained to work on aluminum. The F-150 has been the best-selling vehicle in the country for more than three decades; Ford sold more than 700,000 F-150 pick-ups in 2013 alone.
“The goal is to have enough capacity to be able to handle the F-150,” Massie said. “We know that roughly 80 percent of our customers are going to independent body shops. Less than 50 percent of our dealerships even have body shops. Of those that have body shops, probably about 800 are really in the collision business. We realize we cannot have a mainstream repair process (for the F-150) if we were to direct all our customers only to our dealers.”
Massie reiterated that Ford will not be limiting sale of replacement parts for the new F-150 only to network shops.
“You can’t mainstream something if you’re restricting the parts sales,” he said.
But to qualify for the network and listing on Ford’s shop locator, Massie said, an independent shop must be nominated by a Ford dealer. Ford dealers without a body shop will likely nominate the shop(s) to which it refers collision repair work, Massie said, and other shops may be nominated by the dealer from which they buy wholesale parts. Although the automaker is placing few limits on the number of shops a dealer may nominate nor the distance from a dealer an independent shop must be to participate, Massie acknowledged getting the right number of shops in the right locations is the “tricky” or “touchy piece of the whole idea of recognizing independents.”
“It’s really difficult for us to bring in independent body shops but say we don’t want you within 5 or 10 or 50 miles of a dealership,” Massie said. “This is more about being consumer-centric.”
Massie said as the program grows over time, there may be issues the automaker needs to address in some markets if, for example, a dealer is resisting bringing enough independent shops into the program. But Massie said those who sell the vehicle know it’s not in their best interest to tell a customer they will have to wait long or go far to get it fixed.
“To the top of the house at Ford Motor Company, they recognize that we need to have independents involved,” Massie said.
The initial requirements to join are focused on more general repair, Massie said. But to remain in the program in 2015, a shop must be “aluminum capable,” including having an area separated off (by curtains or walls) for aluminum work. A specific self-piercing rivet gun is currently required (though Ford representatives said a second brand may soon be approved), but otherwise the required equipment list allows for multiple brands or models as long as they meet the required specifications. The list includes an aluminum MIG welding system, a set of hand and power tools dedicated to aluminum work, and aluminum dent and dust extraction systems.
One online Ford training course and two specific I-CAR training courses and welding certification are required. Shops are only required to have one technician trained, Massie said, but the goal is to train anyone repairing the F-150.
In addition to about 800 Ford dealership shops, the automaker wants to add about 750 independent shops in 2014, 2015, and 2016, for a total of about 3,000 shops in the program by the end of 2016.
The program is being administered by Assured Performance, which said the $2,950 annual fee can enable qualifying shops to participate in shop certification programs for Chrysler and Nissan as well. There is an annual audit process to ensure a shop in the program still qualifies.
Is Ford planning for more use of aluminum in its vehicles that will help improve the return on investment for a shop becoming aluminum-capable?
“Ford doesn’t speak about future vehicle programs, but you can see where the fuel economy has to be by 2025, so I think it’s fair to assume there will be more in the future,” Massie said.
Ford representatives at CIC continued Ford efforts to ensure dealers, collision repairers, and insurers that F-150 design engineers kept repairability in mind when developing the vehicle.
Larry Coan, Ford’s damageability product concern engineer, said the new F-150’s high-strength steel frame will be sectionable.
“You’ll have the very front stub, the front third, and the rear third available sections for service,” Coan said. “But we will also offer separately-serviceable front lower control arm mounting brackets. So if those are damaged, they can be replaced separately from the frame.”
The inner and outer rocker panels are sectionable (although the outer rocker on the crewcab model cannot be sectioned). The mounting tab for the B-pillar stops short of the roof, eliminating the need to remove or cut access in the roof. Two repair methods—welding, or a rivet-bond procedure—are acceptable for floorpan sectioning, Coan said. And every sheet metal replacement part for the vehicle will include an instruction sheet.
“It will detail all the procedures to R&R that part, or where to section that part, for parts that are sectionable,” Coan said. “It will detail the rivet patterns, the glue, all the steps you need to do in order to service that part.”
Several repairers at CIC expressed concern that Ford is not limiting structural pulls on the vehicle as some European automakers do on aluminum-intensive vehicles.
“Is there a fear that if we make a pull on that body structure it will break the bonding agent on the other side of the car,” Dusty Womble of Roger Beasley Collision Center in Austin, Texas, asked.
Kye Yeung of European Motor Car Works in Santa Ana, Calif., expressed similar concerns, noting that insurers may presume shops can make structural pulls on other aluminum vehicles.
“Is it because your aluminum vehicle is mounted on a steel frame,” Yeung asked.
“It is a big benefit to have this steel frame underneath the truck,” Tom Green, Ford body and chassis commodity manager, responded. “We’re finding with pulling that, we’ll actually tear or rip out the rivets before the bonding comes loose. So (pulling is allowed) most likely because we have more mechanical fasteners. But I really can’t speak for the other OEMs. All we know is we’re able to pull it. We’ve tested it out and we know it’s not compromised.”
Massie agreed that shops and insurers should not presume that one automaker’s guidelines apply to another automaker’s vehicles.
“We all do things a little bit differently,” Massie said. “Follow the procedures you are given, and you should be okay.”
Ford will have a cut-away of the new F-150 and more information available for collision repairers at both the International Autobody Congress & Exposition (NACE) in July 2014, in Detroit, MI, and the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas, NV, in November 2014.
John Yoswick, a freelance writer based in Portland, OR, who has been writing about the automotive industry since 1988, is also the editor of the weekly CRASH Network. Visit the website for a free 4-week trial subscription. Email John with any questions.