Eveland Bros. partners with OEMs to meet technology challenge
Shawnee Mission, Kan.—Three years ago, General Motors CEO Mary Barra predicted that because of advanced complexity, the automotive industry would change more in the next five to 10 years than it has in the last 50. For Bill Eveland, president of Eveland Bros. Collision Repair Center, that prediction is ringing true and means an ever-increasing investment in the training and equipment needed to properly repair vehicles incorporating lightweight materials and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS).
Since starting their business in a two-car garage 40 years ago, he and his brother, Mark, who is vice president of the company, have focused on high-quality repairs with a specialty on high-value cars, rapidly growing the business through two moves to the present 32,000-square-foot facility, completed in 1992. They repair approximately 200 cars per month, bringing in more than $7 million per year with a staff of 33.
Eveland Bros. was an early adopter of OEM programs, becoming certified in 2004 by Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz to repair their aluminum cars. Other programs followed, and today, it is certified by Honda/Acura, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and Tesla; and through Assured Performance: FCA, Hyundai, Infiniti, Kia, and Nissan. The requirements of each manufacturer vary, with some now requiring annual training renewals. The shop has also long been I-CAR Gold Class.
Repairs by the book are the only safe way
The shop had long prided itself on repairing a car as the factory built it to create an invisible repair. But for today’s car, the OEM may specify its car be repaired with a method differing from how it was assembled, such as rivet-bonding replacing welds. So OEM repair information, researched for each repair by an estimator or the production manager, is now the authority on what methods are used.
The cost for training and equipment needed for more intensive certification programs can be expensive. Programs often require extensive lists of manufacturer-specific small tools and capital equipment, with welders costing between $15,000 and $24,000 each. Some programs now require annual training renewals, and the shop has two technicians trained in each brand. Its estimators, who are former technicians, are also required by some programs to attend factory training.
“If you have a journeyman craftsman who’s a good producer, and you pull him out of the shop for a week, pay his salary, pay for training, pay for transportation, housing, and meals, the direct cost is pretty significant. But the indirect loss in terms of lost productivity of a guy like that is huge.”
OEM programs bring Eveland Bros. exclusivity as the sole certified repairer in the Kansas City metro for some makes. But the return on investment can be tough. For non-structural repairs where any shop can buy the part, insurers not only send work to a non-certified shop, they want to pay Eveland the prevailing rate of $54-$58 for those labor operations, even if they are required before structural repairs can commence. Eveland’s rates for certified programs start at $85, with $115 for structural, engine-removed work.
“Sometimes it’s a double-edged sword. It can be a good marketing tool that we were factory-trained and factory-certified, but to do that, it costs a lot of money.”
But even a seemingly simple repair sent to a non-certified shop, such as a bumper cover repair or replacement, can mask a problem with a complex part such as a Tesla Model S’ front radar sensor, vulnerable to damage on the top of the bumper reinforcement bar.
“Is that damaged? Is that out of alignment? Are the onboard guidance and autonomous features going to work correctly if that shop puts on a new bumper and fails to notice there’s a thing that looks kind of like a horn, but it’s not?”
Liability is of heightened concern on complex vehicles
As the recent $42 million Honda Fit judgment has shown, it’s never been more important for a shop to adhere to OEM repair procedures to minimize its risk, Eveland said.
“Our industry is facing a crisis now — and some are not even aware of it — of a huge spike in liability,” he said. “You just have to do what the manufacturer says — they’re the authority.”
He predicts the industry will “have a run of lawsuits” because attorneys now see opportunity if there is even the possibility of improper repairs. In instances of an occupant being maimed or killed, it will mean more multi-million dollar judgments, he said.
It’s one reason the shop sends vehicles to the dealer for ADAS calibration, because he also has the backing of the OEM, which has “the most credibility in court when it comes time to talk about their car. They have the engineers and attorneys to do it.”
New talent can take time to develop
As a vocational-technical instructor for seven years in the ’70s, Eveland understands the time constraints placed on instructors preparing students for a career in collision repair. As the focus shifted from traditional skilled trades to newer information technology courses in the ’80s and ’90s, some of the brighter students were funneled toward those jobs. He sees renewed interest in collision repair, though, and some colleges, such as Emporia State and Washburn University, offer sophisticated programs where a student can graduate with an associate or bachelor’s degree. But even those upper level graduates must understand they will need more work experience, and later, OEM training, before they can work as even a B-level technician.
“It’s a long learning curve, because they have so much to learn,” he said. “When I learned the business, you could kind of learn your skills once, because a car was simple.”