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Suncorp buys into data sharing debate

Smash up: Sharing of crash repair information remains a thorny issue between car companies, repairers and insurers.

Smash repair data blockage a danger to safe motoring, says Suncorp

12 Mar 2014

AUSTRALIA’S largest general insurer, Suncorp, has railed against car-makers that block smash repairers from information they need to repair cars.

The company is the latest in a long list to have a say about the situation regarding data sharing, which has caused anxiety in the service and repair sector for several years.

Suncorp owns a string of insurance brands, including AAMI, Bingle.com, GIO, Shannon’s, InsureMyRide and Just Car.

Suncorp’s Rob Bartlett said that while some car-makers prevented access altogether, others were charging so much for access to information that repairers were going without, jeopardising the car whole-of-life safety.

Mr Bartlett was addressing the Cars of Tomorrow conference in Melbourne, which was co-sponsored by Suncorp, where he is national industry relations manager – motor claims.

“In recent times, we have seen significant attempts by some in the industry to actually prevent independent repairers from accessing equipment and technical information,” he said.

The information was sometimes hidden in repairer program courses or was behind paywalls that are “unnecessarily expensive”.

“In one case one supplier refused to supply a part unless it went to their preferred badge repairer of choice,” he said. “And in Australia there are potential legal issues with that sort of behavior.”

He did not draw parallels with Suncorp’s own use of “preferred repairers”.

Mr Bartlett said about two million vehicles a year were repaired, and there was no way manufacturer-preferred repairers could cover that market completely, or even effectively.

“And the only outcome is that some of the people who buy your cars are being left to the efforts of smash repairers who, for one reason or another, struggle to get the job done right,” he said.

Mr Barlett said factors in the reluctance of repairers to access the information from manufacturers were incomplete availability and cost.

“Billions of dollars are spent making cars safer, but, at some point, they are dropping off the radar,” he said.

“We think, as a start, a few simple changes in the general availability and pricing of technical information can make a big difference on the whole-of-life safety of vehicles.

“The take-up rates unfortunately are so low that a few incentives and price point changes could make a really big difference.”

To help repairers, Suncorp has signed up every one of its recommended repairers to a membership of the SAE-A (Society of Automotive Engineers – Australasia).

Mr Bartlett said Suncorp had also asked the SAE-A to help start a working group made up of industry participants from across a wide spectrum to consider these issues and provide ideas on helping to change vehicle reparability and smash repair.

He dodged another thorny issue that has dogged insurers for decades.

“OEMs argue that repairers don’t get paid enough (by insurers), so they cut corners,” he said. “I think that’s a discussion for another time.”

Mr Bartlett alleged that some repairers will cut corners anyway, “and that’s why we have to give them no excuse”.

He said Suncorp had imported the Escribe system into its operations. The system outlines “globally recognised repair times and methods” that repairers can reference.

He said Suncorp was spending $3.5 million to add the same sort of data for 27 Australian-made vehicles not already in the system.

He said Suncorp had also drawn up a list of minimum standards of equipment and training for the repair shops it used.

“We spend hundreds of thousands (of dollars) for training of repairers each year, primarily in skills such as welding, awareness of high strength steels and repair of hybrid and EVs,” he said.

“We have programs to assist the neglected TAFE sector to help them train the next generation.”

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