By Gideon Scanlon
Berkely, California--April 18, 2018-- It may have seemed inevitable for a long time, but now it is certain. OEMs will start automatically providing drivers with the first bodyshop referral to their customers.
When I first heard the news that Ford would be doing this--at least in the U.S.--I was unsure if this was much of a revolution at all. Yes, I recently said that OEM referrals could shift power away from insurers in a way that will fundamentally change the business. But the truth is, this was inevitable. It has been something that Collision Repair has been predicting for many years now. It has been since a rubber-clad Michael Keaton first advertised the Batmobile's OnStar system in the mid-1990s.
To take off my collision repair editor hat for a moment, and replace it with the helmet of a novice motorcyclist, I am relieved that OEMs are doing this. Just back from the twisting turns and sheer drops of a California mountain highway, I spent most of the trip wondering if anyone would notice if I missed a turn. The idea of an omniscient Ford observer able to direct the motorcycle for local repairs would have been welcome. I am not so sure an insurance company's eyes would have been.
A colleague who was recently offered the chance to participate in a pilot program with her insurance company--one that would put a vehicular monitoring unit in her car. While she too would have been able to rest easy knowing the that, in a crisis, the insurer would send help, she declined.
"I don't love the idea of being constantly judged," she said.
So perhaps this is it. Game, set and match for OEMs in regards to choosing which businesses get used by drivers. Now collision facilities need only get in their good graces.
Nope. That would be jumping the gun a bit. Insurance has to be profitable to survive, and insurers are unlikely to decide that they are going to give up trying to keep those costs lower by referring business to lower-cost businesses.
What it does mean for repairers is that OEMs are likely to become a more significant factor in where people choose to repair. For businesses that have thus far not seen the advantage of joining OEM certification programs, it may be time to reassess. Note my use of the word 'may'.