A BIG TAB FOR TOOLS

Large Ford stores say cost of aluminum body shop will surpass $70,000

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EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Ed Jolliffe's name.

DETROIT — Michigan Ford dealer Ed Jolliffe has been calculating the cost of getting his body shop ready for the 2015 aluminum F-150 pickup, and finds the numbers sobering.

"It's going to cost anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000. That's a hell of a chunk," says Jolliffe, who owns Gorno Ford in suburban Detroit.

"I don't think it's for the faint of heart. All the small shops won't be able to touch it."

He figures it could take five to seven years to recoup that investment, which he deems essential to stay in the body shop business.

Ford is targeting dealers with large body shops as it attempts to organize the F-150 aluminum body repair system. For those dealers, the investment will exceed the $30,000 to $50,000 Ford has cited for a single repair bay. Like Jolliffe, many dealers say the cost could be $70,000 or more.

Ford's effort is creating the Ford National Body Shop Network of dealers and independent shops capable — Ford shies away from the term "certified" — of large structural repairs. The network, whose members have the proper tools and training, will be Ford's conduit for insurance company repair referrals.

Ford wants to assure customers and insurance companies that collision repair rates will be competitive with rates on the current steel-bodied truck. Those dealers and independent repair shops who invest in equipment and training can hang a Ford National Body Shop Network sign in their showrooms and will be listed on a body shop locator on ford.com.

By year end, Ford wants a network of about 1,500 aluminum-capable body shops, including its 460 dealerships and more than 1,000 independent shops.

Avoiding corrosion


Collision shops need separate tools and work areas for aluminum to prevent aluminum dust from getting on steel parts, which causes corrosion.

Ford officials insist that most dealers will still be able to repair routine fender benders. Dealers are not required to join the network.

"We're looking for the guys who are really in the body shop business," said Paul Massie, Ford collision marketing manager, speaking of the prime candidates for the repair network.

The $30,000 to $50,000 amounts to a starter kit for aluminum repair. It includes a rivet gun, MIG (metal inert gas) welder, hand tools, a vacuum cleaner for aluminum dust and curtains or walls to separate the steel and aluminum work areas.

That's necessary because aluminum and steel do not mix. If minute amounts of aluminum dust end up on a steel body part in a paint shop, galvanic corrosion occurs, eventually causing rustlike spots to bleed through the paint.

'Significant investment'


Mitchell Dale, owner of McRee Ford in Dickinson, Texas, says the investment is going to be higher than he had anticipated, about $70,000.

"But it's something we've got to do. For shops like us, we're not looking at just one work station," he said.

"Down the road, I see us having two or three work stations."

He adds: "I've got 20 guys. How are they going to share a spot welder or rivet gun? Over the years to come it's going to be a significant investment to stay in the collision business."

Jim Farley, Ford Motor Co.'s executive vice president of global marketing, sales, service and Lincoln, says: "We're about halfway to our goal on the dealer side of just about 460" dealership body shops.

Ford wants dealer body shop network to be in place by Oct. 31. Independent shops have until year end. The 2015 F-150 is scheduled to arrive in showrooms late this year.

You can reach Bradford Wernle at bwernle@crain.com.


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