"As the technology increases, the number of people that can repair the vehicle declines," he says. "You would be a fool to try to work on a Nissan Leaf if you haven't had training on how to discharge [the batteries] and how to properly handle the voltage in those things. Some cars have [dozens of] computers, and if you don't know where they are, you're going to start frying some expensive hardware.
"All of those things are pushing the collision repairs back towards the dealership."
Andy Church, COO of Dealer Solutions Mergers and Acquisitions of Toronto, says none of his clients has talked about bailing from collision repair. Some, in fact, are looking to acquire independent shops that don't have the cash to weather the current slowdown.
"In mergers and acquisitions, if you're well capitalized and you have a business foundation to support it, it's not opportunistic," he says. "It can be a win for a small body shop that's faced with the choice of, if they can't pay their employees and they can't pay their vendors, maybe [selling] is a positive move because they can leave the business with dignity and maybe even in a profitable way."
Though uncertainty continues to hang over collision repair, there were signs that more motorists were venturing out in early May. The Federal Highway Administration said interstate traffic May 4-10 was down 29 percent compared with a year earlier and 34 percent higher than in early April. In Texas, traffic volume in early April was down 44 percent compared to late February, but by early May it was down 28 percent.
Church says they shouldn't think only of shrinking their collision repair operations in this environment.
"Don't look at this as the time to cut all of your advertising, all of your relationships," he says. "Don't go into a shell, and don't be a turtle and hide your head."