Bryan Kauffeld on Preparing Your Shop for ADAS
Sept. 2, 2021—In the weeks leading up to the ADAPT Summit, a three-day conference in December in Nashville focusing on the most pressing and progressive trends facing the automotive industry, we'll spend time talking to some of the keynote speakers and other presenters about the topics they plan to discuss.
Bryan Kauffeld, owner of Ulmer's Auto Care in Cincinnati, Ohio, joined Digital Multimedia Editor Noah Brown on the most recent episode of the ADAPT Podcast to talk about the rapid evolution of ADAS, the lack of standardization of those systems and how a reluctance among aftermarket repairers to embrace those new technologies could ultimately hurt their shops and their customers.
Below is a transcription of that interview, which has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
The development of ADAS technology has really exploded in the last five years. How quickly do you think it will continue to grow?
If you look at the cars over the last five years—and really most of the stuff on the schedule on a daily basis is two to five years old—I see it only continuing to grow as they continue to put newer vehicles on the road. As the others in the industry, the repair side, body shop side and the insurance companies become more aware of what kind of capabilities this technology has and what really needs to be done after an accident.
As the industry as a whole becomes more trained and gains more knowledge on the importance of calibrating those systems, programming those systems, whatever that may be verifying their proper operation, I think it's only going to make the ADAS side of it busier and busier. I would hate to guess, but I think there's still a large percentage of those systems that, even if there's not a light on, there’s still the possibility of having a problem after an accident or alignment, suspension issue, whatever that may be. There certainly can be a problem without a light on, and I think a lot of that is being ignored to this day.
Knowledge is key there, and I think as the industry becomes more familiar, I think it's going to make this side of the business even busier.
There seems to be a hesitance in some sectors to adopt new and emerging technologies. At what point does holding off on learning about those developments no longer viable?
If you are doing what's in your customer's best interest, which is our job, I believe that now is the time that you really can't ignore it.
Certainly because of the facilities and investments in the technology and in the tools to be able to properly calibrate these things. It's a large investment. It’s not everybody, but I think that everybody is going to need to partner with somebody or at least build a relationship with somebody that can. Whether that's with a company that has those capabilities, that can mobily come to their facility and do it, or that can go pick the vehicle up and bring it back to their standalone facility, whatever it may be, that’s important.
It’s important now that we are paying attention to these technologies across the entire industry and making sure that those things are done properly into manufacturer specifications.
Was becoming a tech-focused shop a conscious decision on your part, or was it just a natural evolution?
We've always been on the forefront of technology on the repair side. We always invested heavily in any new equipment, OE scan tools, any specialty tool we ever needed to provide for our technicians, so always on the forefront of technology.
About two and a half years ago, my dad and I discussed it. We had a facility that we own that was actually being rented out by a couple of different businesses, but those leases were up. We put together a business plan over the course of three to four months. We got a general contractor involved to build out a new facility, and after about a year, which was September of 2020, is when we opened it up. I think that being on the forefront of technology and seeing where this was going and knowing that it was only going to be a strong advantage to our repair side as well, it gave us that much more of an incentive to develop this business and get it in motion.
For shops that may not be as on the forefront as you all are but are trying to be at least trying to get started in investing in more of this technology, where would you recommend they start?
Shops that are going to do that need to talk to people such as myself and others that have gone down this path in the business. I know there were some guys throughout the country that were very instrumental in helping us once we got started and gave us some ideas of how to grow this business.
There are guys like myself who are able to explain the mistakes that we made along the way. We have peer groups on the automotive repair side, and if we can start to develop that with these emerging technologies or on the ADAS side, I think will only be beneficial.
When we put this facility together, we made a lot of mistakes in our initial business plan. To get that information from people like us and other guys and gals that have jumped into the business, I think would be the first step and really putting together a plan to get into the ADAS side of things.
In the conversations I’ve had with other people in the industry, they say that while it can be a bit daunting to dive into some of these new technologies, it can be really fun once they’re in. It seems like the Summit will be a good place to get people connected to resources they need to get started and be successful.
I completely agree with you. When you say it's been a blast—and it really has—it's been everything. What we've learned from putting that business plan together to what we needed to do to make the facility the best it could be, some of the mistakes we made along the way, things we had to redo … just the overall experience has been challenging. But with the challenges and to watch it grow each month, to continue to get more and more successful and build more new customers has just been not only rewarding, but like you said, just an absolute blast.
As a shop that focuses heavily on ADAS and other technologies, how much of a responsibility do you feel is on you and other shop owners to inform drivers of these technologies?
I still hear that from customers all the time. “How do I turn this off? It's annoying. It scares me,” whatever that may be. A lot of times when a customer will get a new car, they will bring it by and the guys will take 10 minutes or so if they can and go through a lot of the technology that's in there.
I think it's kind of like how airbags were many years ago. There were always customers that asked if airbags could be disabled because they thought that they were unsafe, but as more and more stories are written, more and more people experience the safety features and how they can not only prevent accidents but prevent injuries and save lives, that information is relayed to those customers.
Airbags save many lives. People can't argue with that. I think over time, as we educate the customers and the customers are educated by the manufacturers, I think that they will become more more aware of the capabilities of ADAS and feel much more comfortable with those experiences.
The ADAS field is like the Wild West right now with no real standardization between OEMs. Do you view that as an overall positive or negative?
I think from our standpoint it's made it difficult, but also as we gain more experience the investment has been much greater because of that. Now that we've made that investment in all of the OE scan tools, I think it's going to be somewhat of an advantage of ours.
Now getting into the business, it's a pretty large roadblock. If there was a standardization then I think it would be a much easier business to penetrate. So I think there's certainly pros and cons. I would say the lack of standardization is certainly a con for the customer as a whole because you've got a whole array of repair shops and body shops that think of ADAS completely differently. There's pros and cons, I think, to both sides.
It's all about education. Not only educating the customer, but educating the industry. As more people in the industry become more educated, the customers will be more educated. It's only going to make vehicles safer and therefore people safer.
You’ve been in the industry for almost 20 years. How excited are you for the next 20?
I'm extremely excited. It's a great business to be in. Just like they could say 20 years ago, 20 years before that, there's always a little bit of hesitation and wondering “what's next?”
We’ve evolved over the last 20 years, and at this point from the ADAS side of things, I think we're going to continue to evolve. And that's very exciting.
I think that it's going to force people that aren't willing to evolve in the industry out, which is an unfortunate thing, and the other drawback is the labor shortage is going to be a difficult challenge for us, so it will be challenging.
But I think, looking at these new technologies and what I've learned through the evolution of our ADAS Calibration Center of Cincinnati within the last year or two, it makes me super excited for the next 20 years, and I look forward to those challenges and what we can do in the future.