RUNNING profitable bodyshops has never been easy, but in almost two decades of studying the UK market for car body repairs, specialist research firm Trend Tracker Ltd says it’s never been as tough as it is now.
Between 2002 and 2011, the total number of car body repairs – the majority crash repairs – dropped by more than a fifth (21 per cent), and the value of the repair market fell in real terms (accounting for inflation) by no less than 29 per cent, because the price of the average job has fallen along with job numbers.
The increasing number of active safety systems in cars is helping to prevent accidents in the first place, but another reason for the decline in repair work is an almost continuous fall in the average annual mileage of cars in the UK. Fewer miles driven equals fewer chances of accidents.
The recession has hit bodyshops’ non-insurance work supply hard, too. The squeeze on motorists’ pockets means less retail repair work is available, and the volume of trade work – essentially used car reconditioning for dealers – has fallen along with the volume of used car sales.
More spare cash
The result of these negative trends has been many bodyshop closures, and the ‘right-sizing’ of many more. The number of primary bodyshops (where car body repairs are the core business) fell by 35 per cent between 2002 and 2011, although this shake-out has at least sustained the demand available to their surviving competitors.
Trend Tracker’s lead analyst Robert Macnab says: ‘The outlook for bodyshops is highly dependent on the UK economy picking up again, reviving demand for new and used cars, and giving motorists back more spare cash for elective repairs.
‘But the increasing installed volume of safety features such as Lane Departure Warning, Adaptive Cruise Control and Emergency Brake Assist in new cars is likely to reduce the frequency of accidents in normal conditions as ABS has done in the past, while the congestion now endemic in urban traffic is likely to reduce the severity of the average collision, along with the average value of collision repairs.’