In the battle for dealership profitability, Group 1 Automotive is betting on a metal, and it's not gold.
Group 1, the nation's fifth-largest dealership group, wants all of its 28 body shops to be certified to do aluminum repairs by Jan. 6.
Carmakers are using more aluminum to lower vehicle weight and raise fuel economy. Because aluminum's metallurgical characteristics differ from steel's, dealership collision departments will need to invest in more training for technicians and in new welding, riveting and metal bending equipment.
Until now, aluminum body panels have been used mainly on expensive low-volume luxury cars such as the Audi A8 and Jaguar XJ. But according to a number of industry reports, the redesigned Ford F-150 pickup, due next summer in showrooms, will have more aluminum body panels and other parts. Ford declines to confirm these reports.
As carmakers use more aluminum, dealership collision shops need to be ready.
"You know the first day an aluminum vehicle is available, it will get in a collision somewhere. If [dealers] are not equipped, they won't be able to repair the vehicle," says Jason Bartanen, director of industry technical relations for the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair. I-CAR is a nonprofit organization in Hoffman Estates, Ill., that trains and certifies collision repair technicians.