In the classic film, Back to the Future, one scene in particular has always piqued my attention – the part where Michael J. Fox’s character Marty McFly is thrust into the past along with his car, a broken-down DMC DeLorean that doubles as a time machine. All the bells and whistles fitted into that car are fascinating and were a sign of what was possible.
Fast forward 35 years, the technology in that car is no more science fiction and seems old-fashioned now. What seemed impossible then is now commonplace in today’s cars. Auto makers are moving ahead at an unprecedented pace to incorporate the latest and the best in technology to make their vehicles “smarter”, “connected” and being able to accomplish tasks without human intervention.
From Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems to driver assistance technologies to infotainment setups to comfort and convenience niceties – today’s vehicles are equipped with almost every game-changing piece of advanced technology designed to make driving an enjoyable and safe experience. Well, everything, except the time travel part.
Just as technology is changing in the automotive business, another revolution has been taking place in a parallel and related trade – the automotive body shop industry. As new technologies continue to disrupt the auto market, the repair and mechanical industry has been shifting gears and accelerating to adopt and adapt to these new developments.
The repair industry is undoubtedly competitive, and only the fittest and most agile have better chances of survival. Personally, I am excited about Artificial Intelligence, or AI – the newest game in our business. The possibilities of AI running body shop operations are endless.
Smart technologies have been around in the automotive industry for some years now. They have made their way into some of the most advanced vehicles through systems such as “adaptive cruise control”, AI-assisted GPS, self-driving vehicles, fuel management, parking assistance, safety sensors to detect road hazards, etc.
Now, AI is now turning the notion of a traditional automotive body shop on its head. Sophisticated AI algorithms and machine learning processes can manage most aspects of repair shop operation at lightning-fast speeds – from computing to quick photo estimation, to complete inspection of the vehicles, to providing customers real-time information about the extent of the damage. At the same time, it is also speeding up transmission of repair-related information.
In our competitive line of business, only the early adopters can have seen their revenues increasing exponentially. Whether you run an independent repair shop or a multi-location operation, AI certainly contributes to a higher revenue by turning online visitors into paying customers.
Training is another factor. Just having the right equipment and knowledgeable technicians is no longer an option. If you look up the repair procedures of most makes and models, the processes and requirements change from one year to the next due to new equipment complexities or raw materials used in the construction of different components of the structure of the vehicle. Training therefore should be considered as an ongoing priority for shops.
Another important element taking the AI technology forward is certification for shops and technicians. Certification methods such as I-CAR demonstrate to customers and insurance partners that the team has been trained to manage the most complex mechanical and collision repair requirements and that the shop has the latest equipment to ensure all repairs and services are according to manufacturer specifications.
While the benefits of incorporating AI technology in shop operations are many, the biggest challenge is obviously the cost. Shop owners are apprehensive if their investment in the technology and the time can translate into significant returns quickly.
Fear is another factor that makes auto repairers hostile towards adopting AI. Many believe that the technology is very complicated and requires a great deal of training and investment. Remember, computers were also greeted with the same skepticism when they were first introduced. Now, however, we can’t live without them.
As the pace of this technology accelerates, body shops cannot risk being left behind and will need to quickly evolve and learn the latest diagnostic processes to repair these incredibly modern vehicles. Whether collision repairers adopt the technology or not, there’s no doubt about it – connected vehicles and AI are here to stay.
Steve Leal is President and CEO of Fix Network World.