Ernest Hanni has a rather unique perspective on the collision business. That’s because he has been a body shop owner in San Francisco since 1935. According to Hanni, the three biggest problems with the industry in 1971 are; enough qualified body men, the ability for independent shops to buy parts at competitive prices (compared to dealer-owned shops), and the need for more shops to become involved with industry associations to make the industry a better place. Fast forward another 48 years to 2019. Dealer parts pricing structure is no longer an issue, the other two remain.
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Automotive writer James Crate wrote in 1993 that from the birth of the automobile up until 1956, the auto had been wholly unmolested by federal laws primarily for a reason that was left over from the days when horses were the primary mode of personal transportation. And that is the then-motoring public and the federal government considered the automobile a personal item, much as a horse had been, and thus was an inviolate part of a person’s way of life and such a personal artifact should not come under the scrutiny of some government law or entity. That began to change on July 15, 1956 when Congressman Kenneth Roberts, an Alabama Democrat opened the first session of the first House subcommittee on traffic safety by proceeding directly to the subject of automotive design standards.
The auto industry was not ready for Congressman Roberts. They weren’t ready to be asked if the vehicles they were putting on the road might be designed better and safer, to first help mitigate accidents and / or to reduce the severity and save lives. The motoring public, at the time, was apathetic. Even Robert’s fellow legislators and other federal personnel were apathetic at the least and at the worst, condescending. Roberts was not re-elected. However, during his tenure, he managed to get H.R. 1341 passed which set safety standards for those vehicles purchased by the US government. At the time the federal government purchased about 35,000 vehicles a year, a proverbial “drop in the bucket” in the total scheme of things. But it set a precedent, and got people and the government to give vehicle safety and design another look.
Coincidentally, this was the same year that Ford tried selling safety as a vehicle feature. An optional safety package came with seat belts, padded dash and padded sun visors among other items. (Seat belts would not be federally mandated until 1964) Fewer than 2,000 of Ford’s safety packages were sold.
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The Xirallic Disaster
On the afternoon of Friday, March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake occurred off the coast of Japan. It was the most powerful earthquake ever to hit Japan and one of the five largest earthquakes ever recorded in over 100 years of record-keeping. The earthquake then spawned a tsunami generating waves over 100 feet high. Among other things, the tsunami damaged a nuclear generating plant and wiped out countless homes and businesses. Among the many businesses hit was the Merck company, the world’s sole maker of Xirallic paint pigment, a product used extensively by most major car companies for both factory paint jobs and field refinishing. Immediately, major refinish paint companies began to ration the product. Whereas a paint distributor may order a gallon of Xirallic material, they were now reduced to pints or less. The disaster also had a an ill-effect on many parts manufacturers, suppliers to auto manufacturing lines. Hardest hit were Toyota and Honda. The Xirallic issue was rectified in about 90 days once the plant was brought back on-line. Parts issues, mainly with Toyota and Honda lasted almost a year.
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The Infamous Two-Man Shop
In the 1970’s, the number of shops continued to grow, fueled by younger techs who did not want to conform to the rules of an existing shop, or didn’t like the work they were getting, and decided to start their own shop. Angry, and determined to “get back” at their former employer they found a small garage, hung out a sign, and opened for business.
Industry veteran Tony Lombardozzi explains, “When these guys left, they either took someone with them, or very quickly realized they needed some help, and became a two-man shop. Then they went to all the former shop’s insurance contacts to tell them, to get their business, they would charge $2 per hour less than their previous shop. So the work started to roll in, but in the days before job-costing, those two guys never knew if they were making any profit or not. Subsequently, many of them didn’t last.”
Some of these shops exist today (in 2017) operating on a shoe-string and “flying under the radar.” Lombardozzi explains, “There is always someone looking for a cheap and fast collision repair, not caring if OE procedures are observed or not. And there is always a small, out-of-the-way shop that is willing to provide it, and maybe even save their deductible for them. But the cost of doing business is now so high, and in the wake of the John Eagle Decision, the liability is so high, it’s only a matter of time before these little shops disappear.”
Armistice Day – 100th Anniversary
To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations.
President Woodrow Wilson – November 11, 1919 on the occasion of the first anniversary of the cessation of WWI hostilities
YesterWreck wishes to recognize all members of the collision repair industry who have served their country – past and present, and all the men and women of the US armed services everywhere for their service.
Most people in the collision repair industry today know that car bodies were originally made of wood, not unlike their predecessors, the horse-drawn wagon. But when did they start changing to steel?
Hupmobile, at the Detroit Auto Show in 1913, introduced the first stamped steel auto body. Much of the coachwork on cars of that era was wood. Hupmobile was not alone. A few months later, Dodge Brothers started producing all-steel car bodies. In the latter part of the 1920’s, wooden car bodies were fast disappearing from the market, much to the dismay of those in the wood-producing business. The National Lumber Manufacturers Association charged steel makers with “disseminating propaganda against the use of wooden automobile bodies” when the steel makers placed an ad in an automotive trade magazine promoting the use of steel automobile bodies and stating that steel would soon completely replace wood as “…the automobile industry heeds the trend of progress.”
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Early Accounting Systems
In 1974, industry pioneer Denny Kiyohara started an accounting service and focused on body shops. The only shops that were anywhere near organized enough to use his services were dealership body shops, used to shuffling a lot of paper and tracking numbers. Seeing a need, Kiyohara developed the first computerized accounting system for body shops; the Automotive Repair Management System, better known as ARMS. Eventually, he created a computer system to handle what had previously been done on spread sheets.
Today, everyone knows I-CAR as the premier training arm of the collision repair industry. But in the earliest days of the automobile, training for automobile mechanics was tough to come by. In the earliest days there was no differentiation between mechanical technicians and “body-men”. Oddly, it was the Young Men’s Christian Association, the YMCA, that answered the call.
After an earlier focus of training young men for the ministry, the YMCA’s management endorsed general education work in 1889. It was not long after that they turned to training young men in the new technology of auto repair. By 1900, 288 chapters nationwide enrolled over 24,000 students in various vocational courses. By about 1905, the Automobile Club of America persuaded the YMCA education committee to train chauffeur/mechanics and thus an automotive curriculum became available in Boston and New York. It became the YMCA’s job to produce “competent and reliable men” who would be employed by the city’s “wealthy motorists and garagemen.” The YMCA’s auto technician training lasted until the end of WWI.