Major automakers need assured performance from collision repairers
Manufacturers seek brand-consistent fit, finish and value of repair
Fremont, Calif.—Car manufacturers around the world have recognized the need for brand-based collision training and certification, said Assured Performance President and CEO and Chairman of the Board Scott Biggs, during an interview with Parts & People.
The rate of vehicle development, including telematics, advanced materials, and new construction techniques, has created the perfect storm, he said, adding that manufacturers realized it has outpaced the collision industry’s resources — and that yesterday’s repair processes no longer work on vehicles sold today, much less the vehicles to be sold tomorrow
“New cars require new processes,” Biggs said. “High-strength steel, ultra high-strength steel, aluminum, magnesium, welding, riveting, and bonding are here. Today’s cars represent a bigger change in technology than going from full frame to unibody some 35 years ago.”
Telematics will increase certified referrals
Besides the new construction, market research told OEMs that 67 percent of their customers who had a bad collision repair experience switched brands, he said. Now, not only did they need to address collision repair for safety, they needed to do it for customer retention. “Offering a referral to a certified repairer is a strong message that builds brand confidence,” Biggs said. “And with the advent of telematics, building a national network of certified collision repair shops has become even a higher priority. OEMs are compelled to identify and officially recognize independent shops that have the right tools, equipment, training and facilities to repair the vehicle to manufacturers’ specifications.”
The unusual aspect of all of this is that it partners independents with OEMs, not just as a certified repairer, but as a part of the manufacturer’s marketing program as well, Biggs said. “The certified collision repair programs are so important to manufacturers they are investing heavily in body shop certification programs, consumer awareness and consumer marketing to ensure consumers take their vehicle to a shop that is qualified and officially recognized to repair their vehicle. A prime example is the huge push Ford is making for the new 2015 F-150, made from military grade aluminum alloy.”
‘Customers can relate to OEM certifications’
Factory-certified programs could be a boon to the independent. Until now, referrals came predominantly from insurance companies. Being an OEM-certified repairer will result in referrals directly from OEM online shop locators, smart apps and other marketing programs. “The question that you should ask yourself is, ‘Who does a consumer trust more — their insurance company or the manufacturer of their vehicle? And who will provide better business — OEMs needing a proper and safe repair or insurance companies wanting an inexpensive repair?” he said.
“Second, what is the impact on the customer when a shop has a full line on their wall of factory certifications from Ford, Chrysler, Nissan, GM and Infiniti?”
Manufacturers believe establishing certified repair programs will build customer confidence. “By establishing that a shop is certified, you immediately change the dynamic and perception as to the quality of repair,” Biggs said. “Customers want to know that Ford, as an example, officially recognizes that the shop has what it takes to properly repair the vehicle. We believe OEM certifications will make any shop stand out from the competition because customers can relate to it.”
As manufacturers realized they needed to have certified repair programs they also realized developing programs individually would not be cost-effective for anyone —manufacturer or repairer. “And that’s where Assured Performance comes in,” Biggs said.
To simplify the process and keep costs in line for manufacturers and shops, the requirements to be certified and recognized needed to be standardized. European brands have had certified collision as a part of their programs for years. The problem is each program — Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Audi, Porsche and the like — all have different requirements, such as with tools that can make programs expensive.
Assured Performance has worked closely with the automakers to develop a common program that makes certification manageable and affordable, Biggs said, adding that it’s not five or six separate programs such as those that the European companies offer. “By consolidating certification programs and using manufacturer specifications — not specific brands of welders, benches, etc. —the program is affordable to the shops and OEMs. Our job is to ensure shops have the training, tools, facilities and equipment to do the job to the level of the individual OEM specifications.”
Assured Performance manages certification programs for Nissan, GM, Ford, Infiniti and Chrysler. “‘Certified once, recognized by many’ is how we refer to our program,” he said. “One price covers all of the certifications, and your shop then simply ticks the boxes of required training, tool, and equipment specifications with a final on-site inspection audit that covers all certifications.”
“When you’re talking about high-end European brands, having a few certified collision centers scattered around the U.S. works. GM, Ford, Chrysler and Nissan, on the other hand, need certified shops throughout the U.S. and several in every major metropolitan area to support their customers.”
Brand certification is a simple process, Biggs said, and Assured has set up a website for individual certification. “It’s not pass or fail. Either you have the training or equipment or you don’t, you just check the box if you do. You may not meet the requirements of every brand today, but the business development plan we provide to the shop creates a path to attain your certification. By using the website, you’ll know what you qualify for, what you don’t, and what steps you need to take to achieve your goal.”
To retain certification, Assured watches key performance indicators throughout the year and performs an annual on-site inspection audit. As OEM programs evolve, so will the program, Biggs said. To maintain certification, shops are required to complete any new or updated training and pass the annual audit.
In the case of specific model training, such as for the new 2015 aluminum Ford
F-150, manufacturers have been working with I-CAR to develop special classes, Biggs said. New F-150 Ford Certified shops will be given registration priority as soon as classes are available starting in June. Training will be ongoing, just as it is today, he added, and renewals are yearly and include on-site inspections and auditing.”
The new materials, procedures, technology, and telematics have created a point in time where the manufacturers can assume the responsibility of defining a full and proper repair, Biggs said. “‘How much’ will always negotiated between repairers and insurers, but ‘how to’ should never be. OEM certification goes a long way in eliminating the debate on what is a proper repair.”