LeEco has unveiled a new feature: a steering wheel that can retract into the dashboard when in autonomous mode.

By Jeff Sanford

Toronto, Ontario -- October 20, 2016 -- It looks like big US consolidator ABRA has a new CEO, Snapsheet raises $20 million in venture funding and Apple gets out of the car game.

- The CBC reports that fire crews battled a blaze at a Winnipeg autobody shop Tuesday night. The District Chief on the scene noted that when crews arrived they found multiple vehicles on fire. "It's suspicious," the Chief was quoted as saying. "We have no idea how it was set ... but coincidentally, right across the street, there's two different fires." The first is being investigated as arson.

- Earlier in October major American banner chain, ABRA Auto Body & Glass, named a new CEO, Ann Fandozzi. According to the press release, “Fandozzi will lead ABRA’s continued rapid profitable growth ... ” ABRA, of course, is considered one of the Four Horseman of consolidation in collision repair space. The company has been competing against other banner chains to consolidate the industry. The hiring of Fandozzi seems to hint at a new chapter in that race. She comes from a company called Ride Group, where she served as CEO. During her time there she helped develop Ride.com, a car sharing platform. She was then hired by an investment fund, TPG Growth, to lead vRide, a vanpool company. TPG Growth is a fund that invests in middle-market buyout deals. The fund is part of Texas Pacific Group, one of the world's largest buy-out funds.

According to the press release, “...under Ann’s leadership [vRide] entered a period of unprecedented growth in both revenue and market share.” Now she arrives at ABRA with a mandate to continue the company's roll-up of the collision repair industry. She replaces Duane Rouse, who will take up a place on the board.

“After an extensive search, we are confident that we have found the right leader for ABRA in Ann,” Rouse was quoted as saying. “Ann’s experience, talent and energy have allowed her to build a very impressive track record as an executive. We are thrilled to welcome her to ABRA and look forward to her leadership as we enter into our next chapter of growth.”

Prior to becoming CEO of Ride Group, Fandozzi held executive positions at Whirlpool and DaimlerChrysler. Earlier in her career she gained experience in consumer marketing, product development and engineering at Ford Motor Company, McKinsey & Company and Lockheed Martin Corporation. She holds an MBA in Marketing and Finance from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania; a MS in Systems Engineering from the School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Pennsylvania; and BS in Computer Engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology.

– A story running on Canadian Underwriter notes that, “Auto insurance rates are rising in Ontario, moving the Liberal government even further away from a self-imposed target of an average 15 percent reduction ... The Liberals promised in 2013 to cut auto insurance premiums an average of 15 percent by August 2015, but after that deadline came and went, Premier Kathleen Wynne later admitted that was what she called a 'stretch goal' ...The Financial Services Commission of Ontario says that approved rates in the third quarter of 2016 increased by an average of 1.5 percent....That knocks the average since August 2013 – which had at one point climbed over 10 percent – back down to 8.35 percent, or a little over halfway to their goal.”

- A story on RepairerDrivenNews notes that FCA announced this week that 1.3 million people have downloaded apps for their vehicles that have an Accident Assistant feature that recommends more than 1,500 certified collision repairers. According to the story, “More than 87,000 owners have visited the Accident Assistant part of the app, 12,600 have used it to document an accident, and more than 13,000 looked at information about a FCA-certified auto body shop.” The story notes that, “The apps allow users to prepopulate accident information like their insurance and vehicle information and email details and photos from the accident scene to insurers and body shops. Notably, it carries a locator for certified OEM shops and touts OEM parts and the certified shops’ recognition as 'having the right tools, equipment, training and facility to repair Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge or Ram vehicles.'”

- A Chicago-based startup called Snapsheet has raised $20 million in Series C ventury funding for an app that makes, “... life easier for people who have been through a car crash.” According to a report on Tech Crunch, “The company’s cloud-based software is used by auto insurance providers to guide users through a photo- and information-gathering process on the scene of an accident. It is basically white labeled as a mobile app for each auto insurance provider. On the back end, Snapsheet helps the insurance providers virtually process claims without having to send an adjuster to inspect a vehicle ... The startup’s Series C funding came, in part, from big names in the insurance world ... The startup has been working with new school insurance carriers like MetroMile and Turo, and has racked up 35 corporate clients so far, according to a company statement ... Snapsheet President CJ Przybyl said claims handling is becoming more sophisticated, thanks to technology like smartphones, crowdsourced photos, telematics and machine learning. It’s integrating all the technology it can into its platform to help insurance providers process claims more quickly, to get their customers paid as soon as possible and back in safe, repaired vehicles. The company will use its new funding for product development, and hiring especially in client support, sales and marketing roles."

- ALLDATA announced its collision repair data product is now being used by more than 100,000 subscribers in the US, Canada and Mexico. The company is owned by the AutoZone company, which provides automotive repair information and solutions to the automotive service and collision repair industries. “The growth in our North American customer base speaks to our emphasis on putting customers first, listening to each and every customer and tailoring products to meet their specific needs,” said Mitch Major, President of ALLDATA. The company provides OEM-direct data to collision repair; a tablet-based application to access diagnosis and repair information right at the vehicle, as well as “one-on-one technical support from a team of ASE Certified Master Technicians.”

- A report delivered to the Adhesives and Sealant Council's fall convention suggests, “Composite materials have strong growth potential in the automotive industry.” A paper claiming so was presented on Tuesday at the conference by Marc Benevento.

According to Benevento, a representative of Ohio-based consultancy Industrial Market Insight, “... the majority of automobiles are manufactured as stamped metal unibodies whereas body-on-frame designs are mostly confined to smaller volume segments of the industry such as heavy trucks and high end sports cars ... [but that] composite bodies have some excellent opportunities for growth, especially with the help of appropriate adhesives and sealants ... Consumer preferences and safety regulations are tending to increase the average weight of automobiles whereas fuel economy regulations are pressuring manufacturers to keep down vehicle weight ... The need to keep down vehicle weight provides an excellent opportunity for composite designs."

- A couple of new exotic electric cars were discussed in the press this week. A report on the tech-based website The Verge notes that a company called LeEco has unveiled a new car that has a steering wheel that can retract into the dashboard when in autonomous mode. According to an article, “The car features an exterior light display that shifts between five different colors to signal what drive mode its in. Depending on the color, the car will inform drivers and pedestrians when the vehicle is driving autonomously, sees a hazard, is charging, or is car-share ready.”

The company has yet to announce a price, or a production schedule, so it's far from finding its way on to any road soon. According to the article, “LeEco is also bankrolling Faraday Future, the California-based electric car startup that has poached hundreds of auto industry staff in recent years and is currently building a $1 billion factory in Nevada. Yueting said that company's first production ready vehicle would be unveiled at CES next year.”

- Respected German car designer Henrik Fisker is building a rival to Tesla according to a story on the website Business Insider. The luxury electric car will be revealed in the latter half of 2017 and will be built at VLF Automotive, a Detroit-based car company. The Force 1 will cost $270,000 and will go 400 miles on a single charge. According to the report, “Fisker was involved in the initial design phase of the Tesla Model S, later breaking off to create the Fisker Karma — a $100,000 luxury hybrid sedan. When Fisker left to design the Karma, Tesla filed a suit alleging he copied some of Tesla's technological innovations for the Karma ... An arbitrator eventually ruled in favour of Fisker.”

- Another new and emerging car brand to keep an eye on: Lynk & Co. The company is a new brand created by a Chinese auto manufacturer, Geely. This is the company that bought up Sweden's Volvo. Now the company is launching a vehicle it hopes to sell in Europe and North America. The company was officially launched Thursday of this week. The car is an interesting one. The company claims it is going to roll back the conservative nature of current manufacturers. The car it is introducing will be built on an “open platform” so tech companies can build anything they want for it. The vehicle is a compact SUV. It'll be built in China and will be on sale there in 2017, 2018 in Europe and the US. According to a report by Reuters, this is one of the, “... first attempts by a Chinese carmaker to create a global brand ... Long seen as a cheap, no frills brand in China and unheard of in Europe, Zhejiang Geely Holding Group purchased struggling Swedish carmaker Volvo from Ford in 2010 to help it leapfrog a decade of research and development.”

- Apple seems to have abandoned its car project before it even built a vehicle. Many think this is a smart move. Analysts suggest the company stick to making software for connected cars, while leaving construction of actual cars to car companies. A report from financial news service Bloomberg notes that, “ ... hundreds of members of the car team,” have been let go from the company. Now Apple is though to be focusing, “... on creating a self-driving platform, most likely partnering with existing car makers ... Car making is a tough business, and it doesn’t enjoy the fat profit margins that Apple enjoys on its traditional line of electronics. Apple’s net margins -- the percentage of revenue it turns into profit -- was 23 percent last year. Compare that to 5 percent for Ford and General Motors.” The article also notes that, Google, “which is further ahead than Apple in its own car efforts, has faced its own struggles breaking into the automotive world. The head of Google’s self-driving car project announced he was leaving the company in August.”


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