Here’s why car repair firms could crash out in the near future

12 Jul 2018

Rochelle Thielen, former CEO, Estify. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Rochelle Thielen knows quite a lot about the car repair industry, and she warns that its current form could be heading to the scrapyard with the onset of autonomous vehicles.

We’ve heard a lot in recent years about the disruption set to shake up the auto industry as it makes the dramatic shift from purely mechanical, combustion engine cars – which it has produced for a century – to one of electric, autonomous vehicles.

One of the key selling points of autonomous cars is, of course, that they should be immeasurably safer when driving with other autonomous cars because they could react to things, and each other, better than a human can.

While this might still be a decade or more in the future, one industry very much reliant on human error could be about to drive off a cliff if it isn’t ready for the changes: the car repair industry.

Speaking on stage at Inspirefest 2018, former CEO of collision repair estimating software firm Estify, Rochelle Thielen, described the impact that the advent of a generation of “computers on wheels” will have on this industry.

To get a sense of how much is changing, she said that while the current entry-level electric vehicle has approximately 10m lines of code within its systems, an autonomous vehicle would have 200m lines.

When the average age of someone in the repair industry is 41 years old, and 98pc are men, there is a serious lack of diverse opinion, preparation and knowledge of what is coming down the road, quite literally.

“These guys are ageing out; newer minds are not coming in because they look at this as being an old industry of fixing metal rather than a tech industry,” Thielen said.

Even more worryingly is that, of this older contingent, only 49pc self-reported that they consulted an instruction book during a repair, despite the modern fixer needing half-a-million pages of knowledge to fix the average car.

This means one of the many, many sensors crucial to a specific purpose might not be calibrated or set correctly during a repair, putting the lives of passengers and drivers in danger.

An opportunity awaits

Thielen didn’t suggest that this spells doom for the repair industry, rather that it offers an opportunity for start-ups to become involved to try and remedy these shortcomings.

Estimates currently put the cost of automotive crashes each year globally at around $500bn, leading to a collision repair industry worth $200bn in the US alone.

“I know of so many entrepreneurs who are looking for a space where they can really apply their knowledge or skillset,” Thielen said.

It seems as if this is an area you might want to keep an eye on.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event celebrating the point where science, technology and the arts collide. Ultra Early Bird tickets for Inspirefest 2019 are available now.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic