Schaefer brings Tesla on board
Crestwood, Mo.—As Tesla aficionados await delivery of the highly anticipated Model 3, which a Morgan Stanley analyst in September predicted would triple the Tesla population by the end of 2019, the OEM has added 300 additional collision repair shops to its Tesla Approved Body Shop program. In December, Schaefer Autobody Centers’ Crestwood location became only the second collision repair shop in the St. Louis area to be accepted by the program.
It’s the latest in a growing list of OEM certifications for Schaefer, which already had OEM certifications from BMW, Chrysler, Ford, GM, Honda/Acura, and Nissan/Infiniti. Vice President Scott Schaefer noted that there is not currently a large Tesla population, and the return on investment is not a given. But gearing up for the brand pays other dividends for the company, which has 11 locations in the St. Louis metro area and in Columbia, Mo.
“For me, it sets a tone within our company that we are very serious about OEM certifications and performing OEM repair procedures on the vehicles we repair,” Schaefer said. “We felt that by being a Tesla-certified shop, that says something about your brand, and that in itself is bringing a return on investment. It’s important that we give our customers and our insurance company partners confidence that we can handle anything they’ve got.”
Prior to becoming certified, the company had performed only one minor cosmetic repair on a Tesla that required no replacement parts, Schaefer said. Tesla assisted on that repair in providing repair information. And while some parts are available to any shop, only Tesla-certified shops can order structural parts, including bolt-on panels such as hoods, he said.
The staff first met with Tesla a year ago to discuss becoming certified, and at that time, the equipment requirements were brand-specific, Schaefer said. Since then, alternative requirements meeting the specs have been approved, which made the program more accessible and easier to justify, as much of the equipment was already owned by Schaefer at Crestwood or other locations.
“There was a lot of planning that went into our strategy of how we were going to meet the requirements,” he said. “Because even though we’re a large company, we don’t have a huge budget just to throw money at new OEM certifications that we haven’t dealt with before.”
Ultimately, the company spent about $50,000 tooling up for Tesla, which included modifications to its self-piercing rivet gun, adding Car-O-Liner EVO 2 and 3 holding and fixturing kits and a Car-O-Tronic Vision X3 measuring system, and Tesla-specific equipment, including a laptop, battery charger, powertrain scissor-lift, subframe fixtures, and large battery dolly. For other equipment, Schaefer said its shops bartered to put together a equipment list at Crestwood that would meet requirements.
The Crestwood location was a natural choice for the Tesla spot not only because of its central location, which was not too close to the other Tesla-certified repair center, in West County, but also because it was already home to the company’s aluminum F-150 repairs — including a separate aluminum repair area and aluminum dent repair station and specific hand tools. And Tesla’s construction methods, with a lot of rivet-bonding on the aluminum body, are familiar to the technicians, with Tesla-specific training hosted online.
“Another major influence on the decision was the interest of our managers and technicians in the program. All of our technicians in all locations are highly driven to perform OEM-quality repairs. It’s part of our brand. In this particular location, we have a couple of superstars who just love learning and gaining new certifications, so they were helping to drive it, too.”
One of those “superstars,” Kyle Neeley, is “an incredible technician” who was performing BMW repairs to OEM guidelines as soon as he was hired out of technical school, Schaefer said. “He just is naturally drawn toward new vehicle technology and repair techniques.”
The Crestwood location is where new technology is piloted.
“A few months back, we were trying out the Matrix Wand and trying to figure out how that could be incorporated into the repair process. Ultimately, we didn’t feel like it brought enough value to bring the return on the initial investment, but it doesn’t mean it won’t in the future. They’re hungry for that in our shop.”
The OEM certifications give confidence to the consumer and insurance company, but they also help attract quality-minded technicians, he said.
“It shows technicians we’re not afraid to invest in new technology and training. That’s what the good technicians out there are looking for. They want to work with the most updated equipment, and they want to work for a company that’s committed to investing in that, investing in the training, and doing repairs the right way.”