CIECA Names Paul Barry Executive Director

CIECA has selected Paul Barry for the role of Executive Director. Barry will work with CIECA’s board of trustees to develop a clear mission and objectives for the organisation and an effective strategy to accomplish them.

“With the rapid changes to vehicles driven by technology, including autonomous vehicles, the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence, the landscape is evolving very quickly,” said Barry. “My goal as Executive Director is to help the board identify challenges faced by the industry and work with all segments of CIECA’s member companies to develop a strategic roadmap to take us to the next chapter.”

CIECA said Barry has over 30 years of experience in the insurance and technology industries. Over the last 20 years, he has held executive and senior leadership positions with a focus on claims and automotive repair technology.

“We are excited to welcome Paul Barry to the CIECA team,” said Kim DeVallance Caron, CIECA Chairwoman and Director of Global Product Development, Enterprise Holdings. “His years of industry experience, combined with his prior involvement with CIECA, will be instrumental in taking the organisation into the future.

“On behalf of CIECA’s board of directors and members, we want to show our appreciation to Ed Weidmann, who has acted as CIECA’s Interim Director over the last year. Ed played an essential role in helping the organisation continue its mission to develop and promote electronic standards that allow the collision industry to be more efficient.”

Barry has worked with CIECA in different roles for many years. From 2011-2013, he served on the executive committee as Secretary, Treasurer and Vice-Chairman and has also attended committee meetings as a company representative and/or board member.

“CIECA has come a long way in recent years with the development of the BMS [Business Message Suite],” said Barry. “I am very excited about the opportunity to work with a lot of great companies and people at a time when the industry is going through major changes and look forward to meeting with industry leaders in the coming weeks and months.”

Hertz Car Rental Files For Ch11 Bankruptcy

Hertz Global Holdings has filed for US Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection due to the COVID-19 pandemic which has crippled global travel, causing what the company called an “abrupt decline in revenue”.

After many US states began to declare stay at home orders in March, car rentals dried up and Hertz reduced spending, implemented furloughs and laid off 20,000 employees. The company missed a payment on its debt in April, and while it managed to reach a short-term deal with its creditors, it couldn’t secure a long-term agreement.

The company has accumulated US$18.7 billion of debt as of March and has around US$1 billion in cash on hand which it says it will use to support its ongoing operations while it proceeds with the bankruptcy process. The company will continue to honour reservations, promotional offers, vouchers and rewards points programmes.

“Today’s action will protect the value of our business, allow us to continue our operations and serve our customers, and provide the time to put in place a new, stronger financial foundation to move successfully through this pandemic and to better position us for the future,” said Paul Stone, CEO of Hertz. “Our loyal customers have made us one of the world’s most iconic brands, and we look forward to serving them now and on their future journeys.”

Hertz is another in a line of companies feeling the financial pain of the crisis. Retailers J.C. Penney, J. Crew and Neiman Marcus have all filed for bankruptcy protection this month, while the home decor chain Pier 1 Imports announced it will be closing permanently, with final closing sales beginning now.

AMA Issues Update, Board Takes 20% Pay Cut

AMA Group has provided a market update on its response to the COVID-19 pandemic and how things have impacted the company, with senior executives and board members agreeing to take a 20 per cent reduction in their remuneration packages from May.

“It is our loyal workforce who are seeing us through this period, and we will be even stronger when we come out the other side,” said Andy Hopkins, CEO of AMA Group. “Our performance for April was better than expected and our net debt position at the end of April remains above our predictions.

“COVID-19 has brought positive changes and opportunities for our business. The consolidation of some sites will create a more efficient infrastructure for the future when volumes return, and in the coming months we expect to see an increase in potential acquisition opportunities.

“Most importantly, vehicles are returning to pre-COVID-19 levels, which will drive more demand through our business due to a likely slower transition to people making use of public transport.”

The company says that while its net debt position at the end of April is tracking better than it had originally forecast, volumes for May and June are likely to still be affected across its business and it will continue to closely monitor cost impacts which could result in even more downscaling of sites and their workforces.

Hertz Appoints Paul Stone As New CEO

Hertz Global Holdings has appointed Paul Stone as its CEO days after the US car rental company raised ‘going-concern’ doubts after a bigger quarterly loss.

Hertz is backed by billionaire investor Carl Icahn, but has recently suffered a sudden and dramatic negative impact on its business due to the COVID-19 crisis, which has stunted demand for rental cars due to people staying at home.

The company said last week that it had missed a loan repayment and asked lenders to extend the payment deadline to 22 May.

Hertz, which operates the Hertz, Dollar and Thrifty rental brands, said Stone replaced Kathryn Marinello, who will remain with the company in a consulting position for up to one year.

Stone was most recently Hertz’s Executive Vice President and North America Chief Retail Operations Officer.

BASF And DiDi Form Partnership

Mobile transportation platform DiDi has signed a strategic cooperation agreement with BASF in the Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province of China, where Xiaoju Autocare, a subsidiary of DiDi, is headquartered.

According to the agreement, BASF will provide DiDi with sustainable automotive refinish products developed at its research and production site in Jiangmen. The products, designed for the Chinese market, are intended to help reduce VOC emissions and meet the standards implemented around China.

RODIM paint products will be provided to help body shops enhance workflow and overall performance for automotive refinishing, and an expert team from BASF will perform timely professional technical services for DiDi, including training for body shop operators.

DiDi owns 25 body and paint shops in China and plans to expand to over 200 owned and franchised shops globally by the end of the year.

“Simplification is in our DNA,” said Gu Haijie, President of Xiaoju Autocare. “We focus on simplifying processes and operations while our business is expanding. BASF is the one-stop solution provider that can help us standardise the painting process of our new shops. This will help us increase efficiency by integrating the whole value chain of contractors, dealers, and repair centres.”

BASF first approached DiDi and Xiaoju Autocare in late 2019 and had secured first business opportunities by early 2020, when BASF started the conversion of DiDi’s first shops in Shanghai.

“DiDi is a typical unicorn company,” said Patrick Zhao, Senior Vice President Coatings Solutions Asia Pacific, BASF. “One of the factors that connect us is our ability to respond to market needs quickly. The strategic cooperation will enable us to explore the car sharing market and bring this partnership to a new level. DiDi will offer consumers a preferred choice of car sharing. At the same time, BASF will contribute to the sustainable development of the refinish industry with our global network of presence, comprehensive automotive portfolio and a vast talent pool.”

LKQ Takes GM To Court Over Part Design Patents

LKQ Corporation has begun legal proceedings against General Motors over the infringement and validity of collision repair part design patents on 6 May in a US district court.

LKQ says it has a Design Patent License Agreement (DPLA) with GM that includes parts with design patents, and that while LKQ has a license agreement to sell its own versions of GM parts and pays royalties for it, LKQ is alleging that GM demanded changes to the license agreement and also tried to get LKQ parts removed from electronic parts ordering platforms to pressure the company.

“Where the relationship between the parties was once amicable, GM stopped acting in accordance with the expectations of the parties when they entered into the DPLA, and the course of conduct in the years immediately after entering into the DPLA,” the complaint claimed.

“In the middle of the licensing period, GM also issued a unilateral demand to alter the terms of the DPLA. Further, notwithstanding the fact that GM and LKQ were in the midst of direct negotiations regarding a revised DPLA, in an effort to undermine LKQ’s business relationships and pressure LKQ into agreeing to unfair licensing terms, GM sent correspondence to a third party making baseless allegations that certain automotive parts sold by LKQ and listed on the third party’s vehicle part platform, Certified Collateral Corporation’s (CCC) platform, infringed certain GM design patents.”

The complaint also said that GM’s March 2019 letter to CCC included a list of approximately 250 replacement parts that allegedly infringed GM design patents, including parts sold by LKQ. GM was contacted by LKQ about the allegations contained in the letter, but further communications by GM to CCC continued including LKQ parts in the list of parts it stated were infringing its design patents.

LKQ said it received a letter from CCC on 4 March 2020 identifying over one dozen LKQ parts that GM claimed were violating its design patents. LKQ included the CCC letter as an exhibit with its complaint, which asked LKQ to remove the parts from its system but ended with a statement that read: “If you feel your parts do not infringe on GM design patents, please provide specifics that can be shared with GM or contact General Motors directly.”

LKQ’s complaint claims it does not infringe three of GM’s design patents as they are covered under its license agreement with GM and that four others should be declared invalid for various reasons. The company wants a judgement from the court for these issues.

The complaint also asks for “an order that GM and each of its officers, employees, agents, attorneys and any persons in active concert or participation with them are restrained and enjoined from further prosecuting or instituting any action against LKQ or the purchasers of LKQ’s products claiming that the alleged patents are infringed or from representing that LKQ’s products or their use on networks operated by purchasers of those products infringe the alleged patents.”

Tokio Marine Will Use AI To Analyse Vehicle Damage

Japanese insurer Tokio Marine says it will use an Artificial Intelligence (AI) solution to process vehicle damage across its insurance operations in Japan to accelerate the processing time of claims for policyholders.

The AI solution, created by technology company Tractable, uses computer vision to look at photos of car damage and interpret it as a human would in near-real-time. Tokio Marine will use the AI to understand the full range of repair decisions available to it, including recommended repair, paint, and blend operations, as well as the labour hours required.

Tractable says that using AI in this way can increase the speed of remotely reviewing claims from days to minutes, removing inefficiencies from the process, helping insurers and repairers to agree on repairs quicker and getting customers back on the road faster. The company says this is the first time that a major Japanese insurer has deployed an AI vehicle damage assessment solution into the claims process.

The two companies have had a relationship since 2018, working to improve appraisal operations that require complex visual assessments with a solution based on computer vision. After successful trials of the AI, Tokio Marine plans to use the AI at one of its claim service centres from April 2020, and will potentially deploy it across the country.

“In Japan, after an accident it can take two to three weeks to determine the amount that should be paid,” said Hidenori Kobayashi, Deputy General Manager at Tokio Marine. “By using Tractable’s world-leading AI to assess car damage, we expect to shorten that time considerably, cementing our position as a company proud to pioneer new technology that transforms the claims journey for our customers.”

“We are honoured to be selected as the AI partner by one of the world’s largest insurers,” said Alex Dalyac, co-founder and CEO at Tractable. “We see this as testament to the quality of our technology, the maturity of our solution and trust in our people. Computer vision is accelerating accident recovery; the technology is here, it’s on the ground and it’s making a difference.”

Tractable says its AI uses deep learning for computer vision and machine learning techniques. The AI is trained on millions of photos of car damage and human appraiser decisions and its algorithms learn from experience by analysing a large variety of different examples. Tractable says its technology is globally applicable to any vehicle.

Tradiebot Appoints Beth Rutter For NA Expansion

Tradiebot Industries has announced that Beth Rutter, a long-time collision industry professional, will lead the company’s expansion into the North American market.

Rutter has over 20 years of leadership experience in the collision repair industry to which will help in her new role as Director of Industry and Customer Engagement in North America.

“I’m energised by the opportunity to join Tradiebot during this crucial moment in our industry,” said Rutter. “The prevalence of advanced driver-assist systems, increased use of composite materials and the ever-increasing need for qualified technicians has created a perfect storm for our industry. Now more than ever, repair procedures, tools and equipment need to be as technologically advanced as the systems that have been damaged, and Tradiebot’s augmented and virtual reality solutions are more than equal to the task.

“I am excited to join CEO Mario Dimovski and partners for this incredible opportunity and look forward to working closely with their talented team to introduce Tradiebot’s immersive training technology to the North American market.”

Tradiebot says Rutter specialises in post-secondary education programmes and digital training environments. Her current role in a United States based pilot programme has allowed her to match her technical background with her leadership skills by building a mentorship programme that supports entry level technicians in the workforce while they earn their degrees at college.

Rutter serves on the Collision Industry Conference’s Education and Training Committee, Talent Pool Committee and the Scholarship Committee at the Women’s Industry Network where she is currently building a mentorship programme for young female scholarship winners.

“The expansion for Tradiebot into the American market has been in planning for some time and I am delighted we have appointed Beth Rutter to head industry and customer engagement,” said Mario Dimovski, CEO of Tradiebot Industries. “Beth possesses the right approach and deep understanding of Tradiebot’s vision, culture and mission that will be vital as we introduce the Tradiebot advanced technologies to the local market and set up trading offices in the region.

“We have had strong interest from key stakeholders in the North American collision industry and support from industry bodies has been very positive. Over the past two years I have made several trips to the USA, taking part in industry events and building our network of like-minded business associates with a shared interest in digital transformation within the collision repair industry. These relationships have formed a solid foundation for the introduction of our augmented and virtual reality technology solutions to the North American market, and these solutions will have a huge impact on the way training and information is delivered in the near future in not only collision facilities, but also training centres and schools.”

Rutter will manage all North American industry and customer engagement for Tradiebot and focus on promoting the company’s virtual training products and education gaming technologies working with schools, industry and collision repair businesses to better connect with future apprentices. The solution uses latest hardware and software products from global brands such as Intel, Oculus and Google Firebase in aiming to provide the best possible engagement and user experience.

Axalta Building Waterborne Coatings Plant In China

Axalta has broken ground on a new phase of its Jiading plant in Shanghai, which the company feels represents an important new investment in environmentally responsible waterborne coatings by Axalta in China.

Axalta expects the plant will be operational by early 2021 and will position it to meet rising demand for sustainable coatings from automotive and industrial customers across southern and eastern China.

“This investment into waterborne coatings production is vital to the current and future growth of Axalta,” said Steven Markevich, Executive Vice President and President, Transportation Coatings and Greater China, Axalta. “Maintaining a leading position in the global waterborne coatings market is critical for Axalta and one that we intend to invest in for our long-term success.

“As the Chinese market for automobiles and industrial goods continues to grow, evolve and mature, we believe this investment will place us in an ideal position to meet growing demand among our customers for sustainable products and innovative applications across southern and eastern China. This new milestone will enable us to stay at the forefront of delivering the latest generation of waterborne coating products and positions us for future technology advances and customer requirements.”

China has the world’s largest automotive market and second-largest car parc, with a total vehicle population of 348 million at the end of 2019. The company says car ownership per thousand people in China has surpassed global averages, demonstrating ample potential for future growth in China’s automotive industry. Axalta believes China’s coatings market is being advanced by the government and the industry, which envisions a future where only businesses with environmentally responsible products and production can survive and grow.

“As the industry continues upgrading to sustainable products, the waterborne coatings market will likewise continue to grow in China,” said Willie Wu, President of Axalta Greater China. “The next generation of world-leading waterborne coatings technology that will be produced at our expanded facility is designed to benefit the industry and environment by creating superior appearance, lowering energy consumption, and reducing carbon dioxide and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions.

“Our investment in waterborne coatings production will embody the principles of sustainable manufacturing, while ensuring we continue to meet both our efficiency and profitability goals. This win-win scenario will be a long-term competitive edge that will benefit our company and our customers.”

Axalta said the plant will combine its best practices with China’s local R&D advantages and implement a unique design process. It will include automated production technology to maximise productivity, reduce energy consumption and minimise environmental impacts.

“China’s automotive and industrial coatings industries are rapidly upgrading their manufacturing processes to continue delivering high-quality products, while becoming more sustainable,” said Sun Lianying, Chairman of the China National Coating Industry Association. “With its Jiading waterborne plant, Axalta set the gold standard in the industry in 2015, and this expansion is further proof of its commitment to the sustainable development of the Chinese market and the industries it serves.”

Driven Brands To Acquire Fix Auto USA, ACAB

Driven Brands has announced it will acquire Fix Auto USA (FUSA) and Auto Center Auto Body (ACAB), adding almost 150 franchised and 10 company owned collision repair locations to its brand.

“We are thrilled to add the Fix team to Driven Brands despite the current business climate,” said Jonathan Fitzpatrick, CEO of Driven Brands. “Our word and reputation for being good partners are incredibly important to us. We have never been more optimistic about the long-term prospects for Fix Auto USA, all of our businesses in the paint, collision and glass segment, and the Driven Brands portfolio overall.”

Driven Brands says that all locations will keep their Fix branding but will be joining the CARSTAR, Maaco, ABRA and Uniban brands in the Collision & Glass segment. Driven Brands has around 3250 footprint locations across North America.

Paul Gange, CEO of Fix Auto USA, will join the Driven Brands team and stay on as President, managing the franchise business while Erick and Shelly Bickett will also join Driven as operating partners for the company owned ACAB locations. Michael Macaluso, Group President of Paint, Collision & Glass at Driven Brands, will oversee both FUSA and ACAB.

Shelly and Erick Bickett opened their first Auto Center Auto Body in 1984 and co-founded FUSA. They were also founding members of the Collision Industry Electronic Commerce Association (CIECA) in 1995, Cyncast in 2000 and the CCI training institute in 2015.

“After years of growing Fix Auto USA, we are thrilled to be part of Driven Brands, who completed the acquisition despite the tumultuous business climate,” said Gange. “We are excited to continue building our organisation with the strength and support of Driven Brands behind us.”

“Driven Brands’ mission and unwavering commitment to its consumers, franchisees, employees, and industry partners align with our vision,” said Shelly and Erick Bickett. “We look forward to the many benefits that our two organisations and our franchisees will gain from one another, including industry-leading solutions tailored for our customers. There is exciting growth ahead. We look forward to working with Driven Brands as leaders in the collision repair industry.”

“Together with CARSTAR and their recent ABRA franchise acquisition, Driven Brands is now positioned as the primary home for operators that want to remain independent in a time of accelerating consolidation,” said David Roberts, Managing Director of FOCUS Advisors and leader of the FUSA/ACAB transaction. “Additionally, the acquisition of ACAB positions Driven to begin building its own consolidation platform.”

Mondofix hints at legal action over continued use of Fix Auto brand

After reports of the transaction began to surface, Mondofix, the owner of the Fix Auto Trademark globally, issued a press release which announced that the company was “disappointed and alarmed” by the acquisition and Driven Brands’ plans to use the Fix Auto brand in the US.

“We were not aware of this transaction nor did we consent to any transaction between Driven Brands and FUSA, as is required under the license agreement with FUSA’s parent company,” said Steve Leal, CEO of the Fix Network. “As such, we will pursue all legal avenues open to us to protect our lawful position as the owner of the Fix Auto trademark and design in the United States.”

Fix Auto USA and Mondofix’s relationship has been the subject of litigation for the last few years. Fix Auto USA took legal action in 2017 to retain the right to use the Fix Auto brand in the US, when Mondofix issued a press release stating intent to regain the rights to use the trademark in the US and enter the country’s market directly before the end of the year.

That litigation is believed to have been resolved over the last several months broadly in favour of Fix Auto USA’s position on its rights, according to unnamed sources.