The development of fully autonomous vehicles is gathering momentum at a rapid pace; measures have been announced to promote the development of driverless cars. This is good news for consumers, with the convenience factor and anticipated reduction in road traffic accidents (RTAs) and associated repair costs to look forward to. However, what does that mean for the wider automotive industry?
The truth of the matter is that the industry is scrambling to keep up. Laws will have to be changed to accommodate this shift in technology and insurers are yet to determine who will be liable in the event of a RTA (manufacturer or “driver”).
There will almost certainly be an impact on small or independent garages. That’s because it is likely to become a manufacturer/dealer-led market, given the ownership of the driverless technology. However, if competition boards stipulate that the technology has to be made available to independent garages, it would still cost them to purchase the technology and retrain staff. Could smaller, family run businesses (which make up the bulk of the motor trade aftermarket) afford the additional expense or investment, or will they continue as they are now and risk being left behind? We can look towards technologies that have been around longer, such as electric/hybrid vehicles, for the answer.
Steve Nash, chief executive at the IMI (the institute of motor industry), has said that over 80% of vehicle technicians currently qualified to work on electric vehicles are in the manufacturer franchise network*, however this leaves a significant proportion of mechanics in the independent sector not yet suitably equipped to work on electric vehicles.
Furthermore, specialist tools and equipment are required to maintain these vehicles and keep technicians safe – a huge investment for garage owners to bear and the figures demonstrate that, to date, they have been unwilling to. But, with enough current to kill somebody, can a garage owner afford to get this wrong?
Failing to invest in the training and equipment for these vehicle types could leave garage owners severely exposed, especially from an Employer’s and Public Liability perspective. And whilst industry trade bodies lobby for government to put their money where their mouth is and invest in the automotive sector, garages and workshops are likely to have to pay for training and new tools themselves in the meantime.
For those garages with the money, it’s certainly an opportune time and shrewd move to invest early to be ahead of the competition, but only if done properly. Otherwise, garages could run the risk of invalidating insurance if claims are made and it’s proved that the garage made a mistake due to insufficient training or wrong tools. History demonstrates that the HSE will come down hard and impose fines on those garages found to be uncompliant.
Whilst there are some real benefits for these emerging technologies, the true level of disruption to the market needs to be considered. Will we see a shrinking motor aftermarket, as garages can’t afford to keep up? Given the timeframes involved, decisions are going to have to be made promptly factoring in all the pros and cons this advanced technology brings with it.
For advice on how this technology could affect your business; help to identify the skills gap in your business or risk planning to ensure your business is prepared contact Gallagher 01582 542 330.