Bodyshops in metropolitan areas are suffering higher costs, especially on land and labour, than businesses in other regions which are not being covered by insurance labour rates.
Nationwide Accident Repair Services recently closed its Battersea bodyshop in London citing “uneconomic factors and operational difficulties”. Other repairers are also struggling to make money.
Glass's, part of the automotive information supplier EurotaxGlass's, believes repairers can begin to surmount these problems - and the issue of skills shortages - by adopting practices used in countries like Japan and the US.
Gordon Reid, Glass's commercial director, bodyshop and insurance, said: “Production line repair techniques are used in Japan, where land is expensive, to improve efficiency, cut costs and overcome skills shortages.”
Repairers generally establish two production lines: one for small to medium repairers and one for major work. Unskilled staff are employed to specialise in basic, low-skill jobs like masking. They can be gradually trained to perform more highly skilled tasks like preparation and, eventually, paint spraying.
Productives are able to focus solely on their job. Parts are brought to the line and paint is mixed by dedicated staff to maximise efficiency.
“In some cases, adopting production line techniques has tripled throughput volumes without expanding the bodyshop,” said Mr Reid. “A three-day repair turnaround can usually be guaranteed.”
He believes the concept would work in “certain areas” of the UK, for example London and the M4 corridor. It could prove revolutionary by encouraging entrepreneurs to set up national chains, spelling an end to the 'cottage industry' tag often attached to body repair.