Thursday, 26 January 2012 21:19

‘Standards’ Replace Non-OEM Parts as Focus of Debate at Latest CIC

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A report at the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) on the findings of a study into what consensus exists within the industry about the development and implementation of formalized repair standards led to as much discussion about the value and validity of the study as it did to discussion of standards themselves.

“I do believe this has set us backward instead of forward,” Dusty Womble of Roger Beasley Collision Center in Austin, Texas, said of the study. “I’m sorry, but honestly, I don’t see any value in the research that has been done.”

But Massachusetts shop owner Chuck Sulkala—who has not participated on the committee that organized the study but was one of those interviewed by the consultant conducting the research—said some at CIC were incorrectly presuming that the committee was trying to make more of the report than it was.

“Some of the conversations here are getting us down into the weeds right now when I don’t think we’ve even gotten in the boat yet,” Sulkala said. “We’re still looking to see where the boat and lake is, to see what’s going on rather than trying to catch fish. I think we’re still in the very beginning stages.”


The Study and Findings
Russ Thrall of the Repair Standards Advisory Committee (an off-shoot of CIC) was clear in presenting a portion of the study’s findings that it was never intended to be a statistically valid survey of the industry.

“You can’t project the findings to the industry as a whole,” he said.

Rather, he said, the committee hired a consultant to do more of a type of focus group: Hour-long conversational interviews with more than 40 industry representatives to develop some sense of the industry’s opinions regarding repair standards.

Though a more in-depth report on the study’s findings is expected to be released in the coming months, the committee released a 21-page summary (posted online at http://tinyurl.com/7tysey4) of some of the more quantitative findings, the responses to the questions asking participants for yes-or-no or ranking responses.

In 42 interviews with shops, insurers, associations, automakers and suppliers, the consultant found that all 18 shop representatives interviewed said they would support the standards effort; generally less than 65 percent of those in the other segments (which included six shop associations or networks) concurred.

While not quoting interviewees directly, the report offers a sense of some of the comments made. Shop association representatives, for example, questioned what such a program is going to do for shops, and said insurers should not be in a position to influence how vehicles are repaired. Two of the six insurers interviewed also said that insurers shouldn’t be involved and that shops should drive the effort.

The last question in the draft report issued by the committee asked survey participants what they see as the likelihood that the repair standards initiative would be implemented within the next five years. Thrall said using a scale of 1 (no chance) to 4 (definitely), most respondents were somewhere in the middle.

“It’s leans toward ‘likely’ (a 3 on the survey’s scale), but it’s more ‘perhaps (a 2 on the scale),’” Thrall said. “So people definitely aren’t sure it will be possible to implement this within the next five years.”

CIC Participants Speak Out
Though the discussion that followed the committee’s report at CIC, held in January in Palm Springs, Calif., included some discussion of the issue of standards, much of it focused on criticism or defense of the research study itself.

Some of the CIC participants who spoke included:
● Aaron Schulenburg, executive director of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS), who said he felt the survey questions seemed less focused on “determining the appetite of the industry” for a formalized standard program and more on “carving out the menu.” He said the consultant, in addition to the 42 interviews, participated in a conference call with more than a dozen of SCRS state affiliate groups. “I think it was very clear from our folks on that call that (standards) are something that is valuable to be done by collision repairers for collision repairers, but that there was skepticism of having involvement among entities such as insurance carriers involving the establishment of repair standards.”
● Paul Massey of Ford Motor Company said that although OEM repair procedures are the logical basis for repair standards, it’s really up to shops, insurers and consumers to decide if there’s value in developing a formalized standards program. The study, he said, didn’t answer the questions he thinks the industry needs to ask itself. “At the end of the day, if you put in standards would a lot more customers choose you over the next guy,” Massey said. “If you put in standards, do you run a better, more competitive and profitable business? And if you put in standards will the insurance companies use you versus the other guy?”
● Steve Nantau of Ford said he thinks many shops misunderstand “repair standards” as just dealing with the process of the actual repair, when he and the committee envision a more inclusive program that includes standards for training and equipment, and a third-party certification or auditing entity like one in the United Kingdom. “If you don’t have a third-party doing this, I can guarantee you that the OEMs are going to have certification programs for independent shops,” Nantau said. “We’re seeing that already. And it’s not going to be open to just anyone who’s qualifies. They’re going to be chosen. If you qualify and you weren’t a chosen one, you’re not going to be able put a (certified) sign above your door like you could if the industry create a third-party that certifies all who qualify.”
● Consultant Matt Ohrnstein of Symphony Advisors urged proponents of standards development not to “allow intermediaries to profit by taxing collision repair shops around the country for training, certification, OE-specific equipment and third-party verification.”
● Committee member and current CIC chairman Mike Quinn emphasized that the committee sees the study as information-gathering, not a license to push something forward. “This conversation is the beginning of many conversations,” he said. “There’s no plans of any kind to move this forward any further from this study. It’s up to the industry to decide what happens next.”

I-CAR promises response
Also at the CIC meeting in Palm Springs,  I-CAR CEO John Van Alstyne said his organization hopes to respond by April to a joint request from multiple repairer associations that I-CAR play a role in standards formation.

Last fall, a number of industry associations issued a statement calling published automaker repair procedures the “official industry-recognized repair standards for collision repair.” In the statement, the groups acknowledged that OEM repair procedures are “incomplete in comparison to the full scope of vehicles and repair operations that exist in the marketplace,” but they should serve as a baseline from which further development of procedures occur.

The associations called on I-CAR to create an industry council “to identify gaps in existing OEM procedures” and to develop processes to close those gaps, vetting any industry-proposed alternatives, modifications or additions to OEM procedures.

At CIC in Palm Springs, Van Alstyne reiterated what he said last fall, that he sees merit in the proposal given I-CAR’s current involvement with the automakers. But he also has said I-CAR’s board must decide what role it’s appropriate for the organization to play, and that he has personally been in touch with I-CAR stakeholders to gather feedback.

He said the I-CAR board’s “strategic planning committee” will review that compiled feedback and make a recommendation to the board—with a decision, he said, likely by CIC’s April 25-26 meeting in Oklahoma City, Okla.

John Yoswick, a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, who has been writing about the automotive industry since 1988, is also the editor of the weekly CRASH Network (for a free 4-week trial subscription, visit www.CrashNetwork.com). He can be contacted by email at:
jyoswick@SpiritOne.com.

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