Advanced electronics such as radar, lidar and camera-based vision systems are the building blocks of autonomous vehicles. A new-vehicle chassis is getting more aluminum, cast parts, ultra-high-strength steel, magnesium and similar materials than before.
General Motors has started welding steel to aluminum in the Cadillac CT6 sedan. Ford's aluminum-bodied vehicles —F-series pickups and Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator SUVs — have moved aluminum repairs into the mainstream.
Automaker-affiliated dealerships have advantages in the competition to repair such vehicles, dealers and analysts say.
"It's very technical — you are not just banging steel," says Brian Stone, service director at Balise Collision Repair Centers, a four-store operation owned by Balise Auto Group, which has 24 new-vehicle dealerships in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
"You are working on batteries and hybrids, frame machines and getting these cars back to within 3 millimeters spec," Stone told Fixed Ops Journal. "You have to offer a lifetime warranty.
"I honestly believe that a body shop can be your biggest profit net out of any of your fixed operations, if it is run correctly," he adds.
An industry veteran who has managed dealership and independent collision repair centers concedes: "The dealer lost hold of the customer on the collision side years ago. But now they have every opportunity, with the manufacturer, to regain ownership of that consumer.
"It won't be a matter of [customers] calling their insurance company first," says the industry veteran, who asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak for publication. "They'll call their dealer first, or OnStar. Or the telematics in the vehicle will notify the dealership and/or manufacturer that the car has been in a wreck. The first one who gets hold of the customer should be the one who steers or guides the customer."