By Tim Sramcik
Representatives from Ford, GM, DaimlerChrysler, Toyota, Honda and Hyundai fielded questions from repairers regarding many of the most difficult repair challenges they face now or are just beginning to face. Highlights included inquiries on the accessibility of OEM repair information, new materials such as high-strength and boron steel, and the involvement of repairers in vehicle development.
Following is a sampling of the questions and responses:
Q: Will OE's begin publishing and releasing technical bulletins as soon as the technology becomes available?
Steve Nantau, Ford Collision and Light Repair Engineering Supervisor: "That's already being done. For example, when the Ford F-150 came out with a magnesium radiator core, it already was in the repair manual. Usually, technical service bulletins are put out after a vehicle has been in the field for a while."
Brian Rogos, DaimlerChrysler Senior Manager, Global Collision Parts Marketing: "it's the same with us. We put out technical service bulletins after a vehicle has been introduced. We try to get collision repair CD's and manuals out to shops at least two weeks before a new car gets to the dealerships. Sometimes that's not always possible. We're working aggressively to get information out to shops as soon as we can.
Gerry Bonanni, Ford Paint and Body Technical Engineer: "I recommend that you embrace the Web in your shops. We sometimes make changes by the week. Shops need to get online."
Eric Bondus, Hyundai Parts Sales Manager: "We always try to put all of our information in the shop repair manual. We look at the technical service bulletin as a correction or update to something in the manual."
Q: With pressure from the government to move from occupant protection to accident avoidance, how will this affect repairers?
H. Daryl Porter, DaimlerChrysler Global Service Program Manager: "That's a bit of a misnomer. A lot of accident prevention technology is also designed for occupant protection." Porter also notes that shops shouldn't be concerned that accident prevention technology will necessarily reduce the number of vehicles needing repairs. He noted that much of this technology lessens the severity of accident damage, making a vehicle repairable that once would have been totaled out.
Q: Are collision repair representatives involved in the development of new technology? Are there plans to increase their involvement?
Robert Hartman, GM Collision Repair Center: "We're constantly brining in people to look at technology. For the new high-strength steel, we'll go to I-CAR or talk to welding manufacturers to get their feedback."
Nantau: "We design for reparability."
Roger Larsen, Toyota Body Service Team Leader: "At Toyota, we have an open door policy on new technology. We communicate with Toyota of Japan and speak with their engineers about repair procedures."
Q: When will OE's use their advertising budgets to educate the public and legislators on parts issues?
Rogos: "This is a big challenge. There are 30 million vehicle owners in this country. You have to ask yourself how much they'll retain when they hear this information in a commercial. This is the same problem with legislators Also, if they don't get re-elected you have to start talking with the new guy. Then there are competing interests also wanting to be heard. I suggest that shops get involved with their local shop associations. They need to get politically active."
Q: When are OE's going to supply more information on advanced materials? Are current shop technologies and equipment capable of handling these materials?
Porter: "There are quite a few pieces that can work on boron steel. Shops need to be aware that they need to test their spot welding equipment to see what they can work on."
Nantau: "Part numbers right now don't indicate their materials. They probably never will. Shops need this information from the start, when they're doing their estimating. They need to know whether they need to spend time heating a piece of steel to straighten it. Information providers need to be put into the system. Insurers do recognize the need to know this information. It reduces cycle time."
Bonanni: "Shops need to use the information that is out there. Training is critical here. Information is even more critical."
Q: Why can't OE's cut the price of replacement airbags? If they did that, wouldn't there be fewer totals, so we'd have more repairs and would buy more parts from you?
Nantau: "Airbags usually cost between $400 and $900. If you reduced their price by 40 percent, would that truly result in fewer totals? No. Their pricing isn't enough to reduce the number of totals. For example, when an airbag is deployed, you're also going to need a new instrument panel. There are other parts that are still going to need to be repaired."
Karl Krug, Toyota Senior Wholesale Collision Parts Administrator: "Total losses are going up. I believe in 1989, nine to 10 percent of wrecks were totaled. Now it's something like 16 to 18 percent. Airbags are in the small minority of cases that are totaled. Airbags simply aren't the cause of totals."
Q: We're still having trouble hiring and keeping techs. What are OE's doing to help?
Roger Foss, Toyota National Dealer Development Manager: "OE shops have felt the tech short as much and maybe more than independents. Our focus has been on secondary and post secondary schools. At Toyota, we have the T-10 program that works with schools to support automotive programs. We also have our AYES program. We're working to develop initiatives to put automotive careers in the foreground, which they aren't now at many schools. Some schools are replacing these programs with others,. Some are just going away. We need to let students know what careers are out there. We need to make sure there are curriculums available at high schools for auto repair. These students aren't just going to work for Toyota or other OE's. We think there can be many more students available than we can absorb."
Q: How can we get OE repair splice procedures for vehicles five years old or less?
Bonanni: "The important thing here is doing this work according to guidelines. AVod aftermarket parts since we can't certify that they'll work here. We can only certify what we test."
Larsen: "We have guidelines available on each of our cars."
Nantau: "Again, shops need to use our rail sectioning procedures. You need to remember that force is transferred doing a collision. Cars are designed with that in mind. If your perform a repair that makes a piece stronger, that force isn't going to be transferred like it should if there's a collision. You're going to make the occupants less safe."
Bonanni: " There's always that temptation as a tech to overbuild. You can't overbuild here."
The forum was moderated by Chuck Mayne, OEM Manager - The America for Akzo Nobel and by John Bosin, Manager - OEM & Industry Relations for Akzo Nobel. Mayne closed the forum by suggesting that repairers stop by OE booths with any additional questions.