Just hours before industry trainer Toby Chess was to make another presentation about non-OEM bumper and structural parts at the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) in Atlanta on April 15, Chess said he was threatened with a lawsuit if he did so. He declined to reveal who threatened the legal action but said because he had not had a chance to consult with an attorney, he chose to forego making his presentation at the meeting. Chess has since said that the original party who made the threat has denied making it, making the intent of the original threat even more obscure.
In presentations at the previous two CIC meetings in November and January, Chess showed potential problems with a number of non-OEM bumper parts, including apparent significant differences in the material and structure of the parts. That has led at least four insurers to pull back from the use of such parts; it has also led parts suppliers to develop tracking and recall programs for the parts , and to the launch of several testing and certification programs for such parts.
Chess was clearly frustrated by the threat of legal action against him, saying he never portrayed the demonstrations as scientific research but merely as a way to “bring light” to a potential problem.
“I was asked last month why I did this,” Chess said. “I said that I don’t work for insurance companies, I don’t work for parts companies, I don’t work for body shops. I work for the consumer. I’m a trainer. I teach. So I have no vested stake in this. I thought it was necessary to say these things. I think we’ve demonstrated to the industry that there has to be more than just selling these parts. I hope that after I get some legal counsel on this, I can come back to you and show you more of what I did find. Some (of the non-OEM parts) are very good. And I was prepared to tell you about that.”
What may have provoked alarm in the market was that Chess was preparing to present his results on a series of tests on OEM and aftermarket hoods. Specifically, Chess had intended to point out that a particular replacement hood for an ‘09 Corolla, which was CAPA-certified, had tested very close to the OEM control in his analysis. Of course this information was not relayed to the attendees.
Without confirming or denying it was the source of threatened legal action against Chess, LKQ Corporation, following the CIC meeting issued a written statement about Chess’ presentations, including the one last November in which he used a firefighter’s extrication saw to show how much easier it was to cut through the metal used to make a non-OEM bumper bar being sold as a replacement for an OEM part made from ultra-high-strength
In its statement, LKQ Corporation said it tried to replicate such a test and found “the saw cut through the OE rebar with relative ease, “raising concerns that “there is a lot of misinformation being spread.”
The company pointed to crash testing it did that it says showed both an OEM and non-OEM bumper passed federal safety standards for passenger protection.
A number of CIC participants in Atlanta after Chess’ announcement expressed outrage that legal threats would be used to prevent a presentation and open discussion at the meeting. Speaking as a past CIC Chairman, Chuck Sulkala said this was the first such incident he was aware of in CIC’s nearly 30-year history. He said Chess was merely raising awareness of issues that had been discussed for decades, and commended parts suppliers for finally taking action in the months since Chess’ previous presentations to address traceability of the parts.
“To have something stopped because of a potential lawsuit is shooting the messenger,” Sulkala said. “The day of stopping discussions at CIC because of a legal issue has got to come to an end. It should never have come to be in the first place.”
Industry consultant John Bosin, who chairs the CIC Parts Committee, also called such a threat of legal action “reprehensible” and told Chess he would help start a legal defense fund if necessary.
“Whoever has initiated this (threat of) legal action passed up the opportunity to use this as the forum it is, to express their views,” Bosin said. “We would have been open. We may not have liked what we heard, but they could have come here. They were welcome. Whoever it is, why aren’t they here talking about the issue and telling us what their concerns are and explaining their actions.”
CIC Chairman and Collision Week publisher Russ Thrall assured CIC attendees he would “figure a way through this to make sure the things that need to be said get said.” Like Bosin, he said CIC’s mission is to serve as an open forum for the industry.
“If there’s a presentation up here that you find uncomfortable or you feel is wrong, that’s why the microphones (throughout the room) exist,” Thrall said.