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Major shift in estimating

This year has seen a massive change in the powerbase of body repair estimating following the sale of the two largest UK systems houses.

Solera, a US-based insurance claims company, and GTCAR Golder Rauner, a private equity firm, completed the joint acquisition of Audatex, the UK’s dominant estimating systems company, from parent group Automatic Data Processing.

And Candover, a private equity group, seems favourite to land EurotaxGlass’s whose products include Glassmatix, the UK’s second biggest estimating system.

For the UK bodyshop industry, the Solera deal is the more significant. Audatex employs more than 2,000 people in 31 countries and has a global network in excess of 50,000 customers.

The EurotaxGlass’s deal appears to be aimed more at supporting automotive businesses rather than focusing on the insurance sector. Even so, the company’s extensive portfolio claims to mirror that of Audatex with something “for all businesses involved in the accident repair and claim settlement process”.

Insurers do not support Thatcham

In Britain, estimating is split into two distinct camps based on sources of data mandated by vehicle insurers for their approved bodyshop networks.

Crash repair times provided by vehicle manufacturers and used within Audatex are favoured by more than two-thirds of the market. TTS provides the rest, using times derived from Thatcham, the Motor Insurance Repair Research Centre. Thatcham sells its data to systems houses, including Audatex and Glassmatix, though most insurers choose not to support the data from the research organization that they collectively fund.

The bodyshop industry has been focusing on how estimating systems operate. Repairers have complained that no two systems using Thatcham’s TTS data provide consistent outputs. Some in the industry claim that vehicle manufacturers’ data is often incomplete and that car makers interpret vehicle repair methodology inconsistently.

The net result is that vehicles sharing common characteristics such as the VW Sharan and Ford Galaxy can generate wide variations in repair times due to different interpretation of repair methodology.

Matters came to a head five years ago when the Estimator Accreditation & Systems Transparency committee (EAST) was formed to audit data sources and protocols. After a slow start, EAST has recently reported significant progress in the committee’s work, particularly with TTS data.

#AM_ART_SPLIT# Seven systems meet EAST protocol

The audit programme for Thatcham’s times-based estimating systems is now operating successfully. Twelve systems have been audited by Thatcham, monitored by representatives from EAST.

The assessment process picked up a range of non-conformities within the EAST protocol for the systems audited. The systems houses concerned were informed of these and have addressed, or are addressing, the problems. Re-audits have taken place and seven systems now meet the EAST accreditation requirements.

Commenting on the progress of the EAST audit programme, Thatcham’s Jason Moseley claims the systems that completed the audit are “massively more transparent” than was the case a year ago.

“We are now in a position where Thatcham data will be withheld from the providers of any Thatcham times based systems which do not meet the EAST/Thatcham audit requirements,” says Moseley. “This is a major step forward.”

Work on a parallel audit protocol for vehicle manufacturer times used by Audatex has only just begun. It is likely to be much more complex due to the multiplicity of data sources and differential protocols used by manufacturers. Nevertheless, Audatex, as the sole user of VM crash repair times in the UK, is co-operating with EAST to try to find a positive outcome.

“We have been working closely with Audatex and considerable progress has been made,” says EAST working party leader Jon Parker.

Audatex’s advisory board, which comprises insurers, car makers and repairers, has announced the formation of a technical committee. Its role will be to look at items, processes and materials that are not included within manufacturer data and which are required by insurers and repairers to generate a comprehensive estimate.

Audatex has launched a global initiative for improving the data clarity by setting up an international transparency committee. The next big challenge for estimating systems providers is to link estimating data to repair methods.

Here, Thatcham leads the way with its Escribe product, a collection of multi-franchised Thatcham repair methodology dating back to 1996 and available on a monthly updated CD. Linking repair methodology to repair times is seen by the insurance industry as a vital part of ensuring that their authorised repair networks repair vehicles to correct specifications.

Systems houses are now looking for browser-based links to Escribe to populate repair estimates with correct repair protocols automatically.

Some in the repair industry question whether Thatcham methodology should replace carmakers’ as an industry standard. The Thatcham product is available now from a single source but it remains to be seen whether carmaker methodology becomes available in a cost-effective format for linking to a single estimating source.

#AM_ART_SPLIT# Who’s who on approvals

User list: Admiral, Allianz Cornhill, ARMS, AI, Aquilo, Brit, Broker Direct, BT Fleet, Call 24/7, Chaucer, Drive Assist, UK Assistance, Quinn Direct, Consignia, Cox Claims, Ensign, Elite, Esure, Fortis, Hastings, Helphire, Highway, Sidney H Hooper, Inchcape Fleet Solutions, ING Car Lease, MotorCare, MMA, Nationwide Network Services, Norwich Union, RAC, RBS, R&SA, WNS
Carmakers: BMW, Citroen, DaimlerChrysler, Fiat, Ford, Honda, Jaguar, Land Rover, Nissan, Peugeot, Porsche, Renault, Saab, Toyota, Vauxhall, VW, Volvo

User list: AXA (UK), AXA (Ireland), CIS, Fortis, Groupama, Helphire, Hertz, National Car Rental, Nationwide Network Services, Provident, Zurich, VMS (Fleet Management)
Carmakers: Citroen, Honda, VW

User list: AIG, Auto Imaging, Call 24-7, Claim Tec, Ensign, Elite, Fleet Legal, Fleet Management Group, Fleet Support Group, GAR, Jubilee, Lex, Liberty, MOD, Motorcare, MVRA, NFU, Nationwide Image Assessors, Russell Vehicle Management, Sixt, Universal

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