BMW April 2022

Not that long ago, if I’d raised the possibility of the vehicle you drive making a claim directly to your insurer without the need for human intervention, you might have thought I was one wheel short of an SUV.

Today such assertions are not so far-fetched. In fact, it is an inevitable outcome of the advances in connected vehicle technology, artificial intelligence(AI) and machine learning(ML) capability, Already present in all new vehicles, eCall – the automated system designed to alert first response teams in the immediate aftermath of a serious incident, is an established vehicle technology. It can send emergency services information about accident locations, direction of travel, vehicle and fuel type, and impact severity. ECall has been mandated as a safety feature on every new car sold in the UK and European Union since March 2018. Euro NCAP views it as a contributor to higher safety ratings when fitted to a vehicle.

Connectivity enables one vehicle to communicate with another, as well as online devices and wider infrastructure. This enhances the driving experience with real-time information and a breadth of infotainment options. Manufacturers use connectivity to communicate with vehicles, providing updates to and harvesting data from them. At the end of 2020, there were an estimated 11.37 million connected cars on the road in the UK, projected to reach 19.4 million in 2023 (source: Statista Digital Market Outlook). This includes all levels of connectivity, for example, mobile apps, navigation systems, GPS real-time-co-ordinate sharing and eCall.

Connectivity is undoubtedly an attractive concept for the switched-on consumer but it has potentially huge implications for the repair industry. That means your business must understand its complexities, gearing up now for a fully connected future.

AI advances

AI and ML already play a part in the claims process. Technology companies are rolling out software that uses AI to assess damage. When a driver is involved in an accident they’re able to take and send pictures of damage to their vehicle using an app. Images are compared to thousands of similar examples of damage. Algorithms then calculate the estimated cost and decide on the best course of action, whether that be repair or total loss. With some of the world’s major insurance groups already turning to technology, expect it to become an everyday part of the post-accident process. So, it’s not a huge leap, with  connectivity rapidly on the rise, to believe the car itself will handle all the data required by a claim.

Vehicles are already capable of capturing impact forces and direction of travel, and self-diagnosing operating systems damage and drive-ability. More automated systems will be able to perform a quick sweep of all the vehicle’s components, discover what’s not working, and use Cloud-based algorithms to determine the most appropriate steps to take immediately after an incident.

Endless potential

With the unlimited capability of connected vehicles and the transfer of data over the air, the potential for claims efficiencies is endless. This could, in addition to the car itself providing that first notice of loss, result in the car contacting – on the motorist’s behalf – a recovery agent or repair business, connecting to the body shop’s diary management system to book itself in at the optimum time.

In the future, we may even see software that uses an algorithm to pre-order parts and have them delivered to the body shop so it can fit the job into its work flow, and prepare the parts for the vehicle’s arrival, building welcome efficiency into the process. It’s important to note that consumers are becoming used to ADAS so they will likely take new claims technology in their stride.

Repair connectivity

These developments herald seismic change for the repair industry. Assessors may already be noticing the impact of AI supporting parts of their function. Body shops are next in line for upheaval as software and systems gradually moves closer to self-diagnosing vehicles. What this means, of course, is that your body shop business must join the digital revolution if it hasn’t already done so. Failure to get to grips with cutting-edge technology – linking up to vehicle systems that communicate directly with insurers or repair firms, and having the competencies to fix these new technologies, will result in work going elsewhere.

If you are an insurer or work provider in this new ecosystem you are more likely to link damaged connected vehicles with locations that offer the most efficient repairs. Those that get left behind by technological changes are going to see disruption to volumes far quicker than those that adapt. Vehicles could even be linked by the VM or insurer to a predefined repair network – so it’s essential you give your business the opportunity to be part of that mix.

Thatcham Research is working hard to deliver insights and training that will help its members and the wider repair industry deal with the connectivity revolution. Our strategic Vehicle Led Research approach provides a holistic view of the benefits and shortcomings of vehicle technologies, including the capabilities, opportunities and threats arising from the proliferation of connectivity. There will inevitably be question marks about the accuracy of AI and algorithms in this context, and it remains to be seen how much human assessment and claims process management will still be required. For instance, will all necessary repairs be picked up during the automated assessment process? Will there be more total loss than may have been the case with the current way of doing things? These and other issues will need to be resolved before AI becomes business as usual in claims management. Make no mistake, though – the car that can make a claim is closer to reality than might currently seem obvious.

Ensuring the digital capabilities of your body shop are fit for purpose now will help you meet these challenges in the future.