Ibis
Nason

Right now, we are awash with media attention around Covid-19, and I know many people are deeply concerned for their family as well as friends. Is there space for anything else?

Yes, there is

We must remember above all that we have strength of character, and the biggest show of strength is what we do when everything around us appears to the changing. We have to steer the ship in time for the next event. So that means, counter intuitively, this is the time – if we are prevented from physical in-shop work – to employ thinking. It’s hard, but essential. 

For many of us with enforced isolation from our workplace, it has meant spending more if not quite all of our time in our homes. The majority of us have remained relatively healthy, and as we pass through what we might do if we ordinarily ill, and days become weeks, we need to feed our minds. That allows us to take stock, and decide how we can bring our business back to full strength for the day when all restrictions are lifted. Best of all, we can do this without spending one penny.

The BMW I Hydrogen NEXT has two fuel tanks hold hydrogen at a pressure of 700 bar, with a total fuel mass of 6kg. The fuel cell stack develops 125 kW, which adds to the 150 kWh battery pack to deliver 275 kWh. The technology is jointly developed with Toyota and their Tier 1 suppliers, with the first application in a run-out edition if the current BMW X5 (G05) in 2022. Both companies know full well that hydrogen re-fuelling takes around five minutes, but the infrastructure is not really in place. Conversely, getting real world customer use helps breed resilience and durability, so that when the world is ready, the company can offer a reliable product. Meanwhile the next gen electric motor, battery and controller are set to appear in i X3 later this year. The message? That BMW will offer everything from diesel or petrol engines through to FCEV.    

The vehicle manufacturers are not finished with innovation, as they map out their vision of the future. Bottom line: Profit is associated with internal combustion engine power, supplemented by relatively small electric power systems as long as the energy used in those systems do not count towards tail pipe emissions – which is the case right now. Pure electric vehicles suffer from seriously significant cost of the energy storage system, and hydrogen power has that to contend with as well as the cost of the fuel cell technology.  In five years, that formula will change, and it will keep changing year by year. 

So, the vehicle manufacturers – just looking at power sources – are mapping a future with all of these elements on offer, so that depending on the wealth and political correctness of each market around the world, they will have a product to offer. The so-called ‘legacy’ vehicle manufacturers know more about the automotive business and their customers than any of the pure electric or hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicle start-ups. Forget Silicon Valley ‘disruption’ – the business model is all about creating a story and tagging shares to that story. Process, process, process.

What about our own sector?

Let’s start with what we do once a vehicle arrives. Tradition says that one or members of our team know this or that brand and so do not need much if any additional information. The wakeup call is vehicle technology has not stood still since 2000, and indeed the rate of change has accelerated since then. Systems which could only be found on a few models on sale in a few places in the world, have become either routine optional fitment or even standard equipment on all but the very least expensive new vehicles. 

For members of CRA there is a membership benefit in getting vehicle manufacturer repair documents at no additional cost: Other services are available, including going straight to the vehicle manufacturer. In any event, spending time studying this will help us all understand the major building blocks of each new major model range and how many of those building blocks are re-used in subsequent ‘new’ models. This process also evolves, but this investment will ensure we get up to speed and stay abreast of each new system development as it hits the market.

Now think about the work flow. How much area is outside the shop, and how much area is inside? Again, each square metre is supposed to be making a profit, is there a large area outside which can store vehicles for months, unless the business is getting storages fees, it needs to be reduced. That starts to push the process inside, since most of the vehicles requiring repair are now inside. 

Triage

The collision repair business is by its very nature, flexible. Consider all of the jobs your company has worked on since the start of 2020:  Were any of these absolutely identical in every way? Nope.

The objective is to use a rapid inspection of the vehicle with a person who knows how to read the effects of the impact energy, with minimal component removal and document what information as well as parts are required. In turn the repair can be calculated to discover how long it will take, and thus allocate a total ‘shop’ time, and from this the time for each sub-set of operations. Putting together the sequence of vehicles to be repaired and planning the best use of each function (strip, panel, paint, rebuild) should ensure best use of the total available time from each area.

The wild card? Ensuring people can do more than one thing. This will help move team members into busy areas rather than have them waiting for a certain type of work to arrive whilst others are over worked. Right there is a training strategy, and from that will flow the required investments. This feeds into our plan.

In our new world, we need to consider the images we take of the vehicle and what information we are capturing. This information will help inform the type of repair required, as well as remove potential disputes after the repair is completed. So, we need to brush up on our photography skills – again, low cost training, possibly even free. Thinking about and self-checking what we do is a good way to work.

Where possible, each vehicle will have a pre-repair diagnostic check to ensure there are no pre-existing unrelated malfunctions, and that process is repeated at the end of the process to ensure the vehicle is fully operational – so capturing initialisation as well as calibration, where required. Before the diagnostics check at the end of the process, we should perform four-wheel alignment check / adjustment, which enables us to know the suspension and body are aligned as intended.

Ready, steady, start!

Make no mistake, the economy has to – absolutely has to – restart, and do so by mid-year. If it does not, the tax funded services will be impacted. It’s all well and good to look to authority in emergencies, but our economic activity is the power house of the economy. Reshaping the business with a 2 year plus business plan is going to help bring the whole thing back into life, and allow it to run lean until full trade resumes. Transition from minimum service or even closure to re-opening does not happen by accident – it requires careful planning. 

Why should we prepare? The transition to economic activity will come as quite a shock, and many of us will be busier than ever before. It will not be an overnight process, but we have to make the very best of every single business opportunity in the very near future. That’s why if we want to make changes to the business – our methods of accessing on-line partners, those business partners who are not yet prepared to discuss anything, how we process vehicles – need to be thought through right now.

This is not an invitation to get the credit card out, but it may be some investments are required as a result of this reflection on what we do for a living. One thing is clear. Get ready. South Africa is going back into business, and all of us are part of that.

Auto Industry Consulting is an independent provider of technical information to the global collision repair industry via EziMethods, our online collision repair methods system. For more information please visit the website: www. ezimethods.com or contact                      andrew.marsh@autoindustryconsulting.com

 

By Andrew Marsh