This is a serious concern to many people in our industry and I hear a lot of differing opinions on the subject. Clearly, crash avoidance technology is already a reality. Many speculate that crash avoidance technology will soon become standard equipment on most vehicles, and I don’t see any reason to doubt it given the progress we are already seeing. I am positive that such technology will create the intended safety consumers seek in their automobile purchases, and it will have a dramatic effect on the number of vehicles that need to be repaired. I believe that if not for the increased use of cell phones and other distractions by drivers in the past few years, we would have already felt a steeper decline in repair work than we already have. I don’t have a crystal ball to predict the future, but I don’t think we need one to predict that vehicle accident frequency will likely continue to decrease and we may end up having a surplus of shops as a result.
Now before you jump off a bridge, let me point out a couple things. There is always an opportunity contained in every adversity. Despite the decrease in the number of repairs, many believe, as do I, that severity will increase due to the additional technology involved and the expense to repair this technology. As I write this, there are serious conversations taking place all over the industry about the added expense diagnostic scanning both before and after repairs as well as the many other calibrations that are required. Yes, fixing cars will continue to require new skills, new equipment, and new expense, but for the shops with the right mindset to embrace these changes, I think a very prosperous future could be in store for those that can weather the technological storm. Sadly, some shops will not survive. If you embrace the change, you can not only survive but benefit and prosper from our quickly changing world.
What about autonomous vehicles? I believe that self-driving cars are indeed a reality of our future, mainly because they already exist in our present. The big questions that remain unanswered is how long will it take to perfect the technology for practical use and how long it will take for humans to embrace it from a consumer standpoint?
While the concept of the driverless car has been around for nearly a century, in 2009 Google decided to make it a priority. While Google has no interest in becoming a car manufacturer, they have been relentless in their pursuit of the perfect autonomous car. Logging millions of miles, Google, several vehicle manufacturers, and even UBER, are doing some impressive things with the technology and learning very quickly how to make self-driving a reality. UBER is already running cars all over the city streets of Pittsburg, while Google has been running its friendly-looking Google car that has no interior driving controls whatsoever all over our roads with only minor negative instances. These cars utilize a combination of lasers, cameras, and radar technology to identify objects and respond accordingly. Proponents of the technology say that it will save lives by reducing cars crashes, reduce traffic congestion, and give people with disabilities access to transportation they may not have otherwise.
No one can seem to give an exact answer to our tough question though. How long until it affects the collision repair industry? I hear answers that range anywhere from three to 30 years, and I am not losing any sleep over it. I do not believe autonomous cars will completely replace cars with drivers anytime soon because other than being stuck in traffic, many of us still love to drive. The technology while possibly providing more safety than human drivers, is currently in a stage of what Google calls “paranoia.” The vehicles are learning very quickly how to identify objects and react appropriately, but there is a lot of learning still to be done before these computer-driven cars do it with confidence. It is like a nervous teenager just learning how to drive, paying very careful attention, but never willing to risk pulling out into traffic and trusting that the oncoming car will slow down for us. I would hate to be the guy behind one of these! There are other limitations too. As of now, the sensing technology has difficulty working in inclement weather, and is useless on snow-covered roads.
I believe when self-driving cars do become widely available to the public, they will initially be targeting carpool-type transportation, the elderly, and those with disabilities. I think it would be logical to assume that in the early stages of adoption, self-driving cars will be used for HOV or express lane freeway applications. I am excited to watch as this technology unfolds and hopefully makes the world a better place, instead of just another useless gadget.
This has been an excerpt from the book The Secrets of America’s Greatest Body Shops to be released early 2017. See www.bodyshopsecrets.com.