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Analyzing the 2016 CAFE Standards

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Auto manufacturing has evolved rapidly, with new technologies, high-strength materials and overall design enhancements defining today’s vehicles. Those changes aren’t over yet. New corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards will continue to change the look and build of vehicles through 2016, when the standard for every vehicle will be 39 miles per gallon (mpg).

FenderBender’s Andrew Johnson sat down with Jeff Peevy, director of field operations for I-CAR, to discuss how the new CAFE standards will change the look of future vehicles and the implications that may have on repairers down the road.

 

The CAFE standards for vehicles will change dramatically over the next five years—from 30.2 mpg in 2011 to 39 mpg by 2016. What is driving this?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regulates the CAFE standards. As I understand it, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also has some concerns not only around fuel efficiency, but also on the pollution side of it as well. So they’ve tried to pull those two issues together. They have finally got the car manufacturers to come to the table and discuss potential solutions.

We haven’t seen any change in the CAFE standards in quite some time. The standard was 27.5 mpg from 1990 through 2010. But we’re about to see a change now, with the first little increase in 2012. The biggest jump is coming in 2016.

 

Auto manufacturers make a number of larger vehicles—trucks, vans, sport utility vehicles (SUVs). It seems a little far-fetched that the manufacturers will be able to construct those vehicle types to meet the new standard.

The new standard is kind of a weighted average between smaller vehicles and the light trucks, vans and SUVs. Of course, they’re going to improve the fuel efficiency on those vehicles as well, but the auto manufacturers are going to have to build some cars that are superstars on the fuel efficiency side to possibly balance out some of those larger vehicles. Between 2014 and 2015, we’ll really start to see the technology that will be used to accomplish that.

 

What trends do you anticipate seeing among auto manufacturers as they work to achieve the new fuel standards?

It’s going to be a technology driver. We expect car manufacturers to come out with some very creative things. It’s going to be a fascinating ride over the next five years.

Advanced high-strength steels have opened a lot of doors for auto manufacturers in the overall design of vehicles. During the past few years, they have had to work with the concept of making a lighter-weight vehicle while maintaining structural integrity and safety standards. We know that high-strength steels have allowed for safer, stronger and lighter vehicles. That’s why we’re seeing a lot more of the advanced steels today. The way these high-strength materials are used in vehicle design may begin to change.

All of the car manufacturers seem to have done a pretty good job of understanding the technology that keeps an occupant safe in a lighter vehicle. I anticipate the manufacturers to keep getting better and better at that. That could lead to more safety devices, such as airbag, restraint and sensor technologies.

Overall, we anticipate seeing even more of some of the things we’re already hearing about, such as hybrids and electric vehicles like the Chevrolet Volt. We’re definitely going to see those become more and more popular.

 

This certainly isn’t the first time that the industry has witnessed a change in CAFE standards. The standard increased from 14 mpg in 1974 to 24 mpg by 1982. How did the industry deal with that change many years ago?

There was the introduction of the CAFE standard in the mid-70s, which was the driver of car design changes. By 1979, we saw a new kind of car. We saw a uni-body, front-wheel drive vehicle that was quite a bit different from what we traditionally had seen. That development created repair changes, of course. The industry was really struggling with how to repair those new vehicles, and that’s actually how I-CAR came to be in 1979.

 

What is I-CAR doing to prepare for these changes regarding the training it will offer to the industry?

We’ve been working very closely with the auto manufacturers on the ultra-high strength steels and the new designs driven by that. We’ve been working very closely with nearly all of the manufacturers around the hybrids, electric vehicles and alternative fuel-type vehicles.

I-CAR does a lot of training for the auto manufacturers, specifically for their dealerships in a lot of cases. They share their technology and provide us with insight and direction in training that’s necessary to be developed. We’re able to learn from the information they provide, and share that information with the entire collision repair industry.

 

I-CAR rolled out its Professional Development Program this past year. How will this new training structure help repairers evolve along with the new vehicle technologies to ensure that they’re properly repairing newly designed cars?

The timing of the Professional Development Program and the transition to the requirements included in the program really lay the foundation for assisting the industry in preparing for the technology changes that we anticipate from the new CAFE standards. It creates the framework for staying on top of new technology training because it ensures that repairers have a good, solid understanding of the basics that new technologies are built on.

Within the professional development program, there is a training category for all positions in the shop that we refer to as “new technology training.” Industry professionals told us that we needed to have a continuing education requirement around new technology. It’s a real benefit to use the framework of the professional development program as a transition into the future vehicle changes.

We’re going to have to be very serious about the way that we address knowledge and the ability of repairers to perform. The technology that is coming is going to be less tolerant of mistakes. The new developments in vehicles will affect every role in the shop in one way or another: body technicians, estimators, auto physical damage appraisers and even refinish technicians.

 

So this was pretty good timing for the Professional Development Program to be put in place. How much of a role did the knowledge of increased CAFE standards, and forecasted changes in vehicle designs, play in the rollout of the program?

It was certainly on the minds of many industry professionals. The people who were involved in the development of the Professional Development Program really positioned themselves to stay in the forefront of changes in technology—both at the car manufacturer level and the repair technology on our side of the industry.

They were fully aware of the changes to the CAFE standards. Many people were saying that, at some point, the industry cannot seek merely to meet minimal standards or minimal requirements for repairs and training.

The big thing around the creation of the Professional Development Program—which was very much developed by the industry—was an acknowledgement that a lot of repair mistakes are often made due to an assumption that technicians know the basics of collision repair.

There’s never been a framework of formal training around the basic knowledge that repairers should have.

We’ve seen that new technology shines an even brighter light on the fact that repairers really need to know the basics. The basics of collision repair that were important in the late ‘90s and early 2000s are going to be just as important to know 10 years from now, and maybe even more so. If you don’t fully understand the basics of your role in the shop and how it plays into the industry, you may misinterpret and misunderstand some of the technology changes and the repair changes that are coming.

 

What do repairers need to be mindful of to be ready for 2016?

Shops that have not trained on the advanced high-strength steels or have yet to be trained on hybrid vehicles, for example, will absolutely have to do so. That training is now seen as basic information, whereas it was considered to be new only about two or three years ago.

Some shops still haven’t really addressed the need to know the information at all. Although that information is now considered basic, it might still be new to some shops, and they haven’t yet taken the opportunity to get that training.

It’s important for shops to get into the mindset that they’re going to have to stay on top of the new vehicle developments. We’re going to continue to see rapid change; if anything, the momentum and pace of change is going to continue to increase. It’s so important that shops don’t fall behind the curve in learning and training because it’s going to be hard to catch up.

It’s going to be highly important for shop owners to acknowledge and understand that they need to train their technicians continually.

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