Technology and bodyshops: Thatcham’s verdict

Thatcham has assuaged fears among repairers that more autonomy on our roads will mean fewer jobs in our workshops.

The vanguard of a vast driverless fleet is here and many more are following behind them, but the idea that autonomous driving will turn bodyshops into deserted buildings with no customers is misconceived. In fact, Thatcham believes the breath-taking advance in technology will also work in bodyshops’ favour.

Speaking at the third IBIS Middle East, held in Dubai in early February, Thatcham’s strategy and development director Neale Phillips said, ‘One of Thatcham’s key roles is to try and predict what the crash of the future will look like and then inform insurers and bodyshops.’

Essentially, Neale believes that progress in the industry is racing ahead on three fronts – car construction and materials, connectivity, and autonomy.

While the technology associated with autonomous driving will substantially reduce the number of high-impact and rear-end collisions, Neale believes that there will still be plenty of work for the repair industry, some of which will come from repairs on vehicles that may previously have been written off had it not been for the mitigating effects of new crash avoidance technology.  ‘We think there will be a different type of accident repairer in the future,’ he added.

On vehicle construction, Neale pointed to ever-tightening emissions targets as a notable driver behind the evolution in body materials. The weight of the vehicle counts 40% towards total emissions, so manufacturers are naturally targeted this area and there have been wholesale changes in recent years.

The industry is littered with examples – the use of high strength steel in the Hyundai i20 has gone from 16% in 2012 to 42% last year; next year only a quarter of the Chevrolet Cruz bodywork will be mild steel, with the rest comprising advanced/ultra and high-strength steel, press hardened steel and aluminium.

Neale said, ‘It’s our role to help technicians repair those types of vehicles.’

He also looked at the impact of autonomous technologies on the repairer, such as Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB).

He said, ‘Thatcham is encouraging manufacturers to fit AEB to vehicles, and we’ve seen an exponential rise in its use. In 2015 it was available in 75% of new models launched to market. That’s fantastic from a standing start. But AEB is just one example. There are other safety systems coming to the market and we’re trying to model the benefit of these technologies to both bodyshops and insurers.’

Thatcham is also researching the repair and diagnostic implications of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems such as screen-mounted sensors. It is predicting a huge increase in demand for electrical skills among bodyshop technicians, while another side effect is the reported need to recalibrate and retest sensors after every incident.