Mercedes-Benz GLA concept puts laser projectors in headlights, redefines SUV

MercedesBenz GLA concept puts laser projectors in headlights, redefines the SUV as 'sporty'

All pretty young things eventually require face-lifts to stay fresh. And the same goes for car models too, which in the SUV’s case means a total body lift. Mercedes-Benz is planning to do just that to the category, with an official unveiling of its Concept GLA premium compact SUV planned for the Shanghai Auto Show next week. The sportier, “more coupe-like” vehicle has a 208-horsepower four-cylinder turbocharged gas engine, 7-speed dual clutch automatic transmission, 4Matic all wheel drive and — wait for it — headlamps with laser projectors. Oh yes, really. Despite what you may think, the laser light show isn’t all just for neat tricks, though you can display any photos or video compatible (shared via phone, hard drive or the wild interwebs) with the car’s in-dash COMAND system. No, there’s a practical purpose that prompted Mercedes-Benz’ German engineers to include the feature: a real-time navigation overlay. And lest we forget, there’s one last scintillating tidbit of this concept car’s posh perspective. It also features 65-feet of hand-stitched interior leather. We believe the correct response you’re searching for is: !#$&%. And we’d agree.

Click link below to see press release.

by: Joseph Volpe-Engadget.com http://www.engadget.com/2013/04/18/mercedes-benz-gla-concept-puts-laser-projectors-in-headlights/

Big Auto Insurers See Decline in Market Share

Over the past decade, the largest insurers in the country have been growing their combined market share so that today over half of all private passenger auto insurance in the United States is handled by just five companies, and the top 15 companies encompass more than 75 percent of the entire market.

In the year 2000, that same 70 percent of the business, now held by just 10 insurers, was served by nearly 19 different insurers competing for that same share of the market. Those top 19 made up 71.1 percent of the market.

However, the latest data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), which ranks insurer market share based on total written premiums for the year, shows that the rapid growth of the past decade may be starting to slow.

According to the final 2012 NAIC figures, the top five private passenger auto insurers in 2012 controlled 52.09 percent of the market, down 1.22 points from 53.31 percent in 2011. Likewise, the combined market share of the top ten companies also dropped in 2012, to 69.56 percent from 71.26 percent in 2011. The loss of market share was experienced by nearly every individual company in the top ten. Only GEICO and Zurich saw their share increase from 2011 to 2012.

The combined market share of the top 15 insurers also dropped over the past year, from 77.73 to 75.78 in 2012.

Over the past decade, the two largest insurers, State Farm and Allstate, have steadily controlled approximately 30 percent of the market (down to 28.37 in 2012) while the landscape just below them has changed dramatically.

In 2000, Berkshire Hathaway (GEICO) and Progressive combined controlled just over nine percent of the market, holding the number four and five spots in the NAIC rankings. Since then, the share of the market they control has grown to where they now control 17.84 percent of the market with GEICO holding the number three spot followed closely by Progressive at number four.

Out of the top five insurers in 2012, Allstate is the only insurer to have lost some of its private passenger auto market share in the years since 2000, according to NAIC’s numbers. The biggest gainers have been GEICO (up 103.8%) and Progressive (up 75.7%).

Though not in the top five, Liberty Mutual has proven to be the largest relative gainer, more than doubling its market share (up 105.7%) since the year 2000.

Looking further down the list, to the top 15 and top 25 largest private passenger auto insurers, the top 15 insurers grew their market share by 8.98 points (13.4%) since 2000 while the market share of the top 25 insurers grew 6.78 points, or 8.9 percent, since 2000.

In the year 2000, the top 25 insurers competed for a combined 73.9 percent of the private passenger auto insurance market. Today, that share of the market is controlled by just 13 companies.

Rank Private Passenger Auto Groups

Market Share Percent

Sorted by 2012 Rank 2012 2011 2010 2009 2000
1 State Farm 18.37 19.57 18.68 18.42 17.90
2 Allstate 10.00 10.85 10.19 11.21 11.80
3 GEICO 9.58 9.54 8.51 7.69 4.70
4 Progressive 8.26 8.34 7.71 6.94 4.70
5 Zurich 5.88 5.01 5.97 6.28 5.80
6 USAA 4.83 4.83 4.36 4.63 3.40
7 Liberty Mutual 4.73 4.78 4.50 4.36 2.30
8 Nationwide 4.08 4.26 4.22 4.36 4.60
9 Travelers 1.94 2.19 2.11 1.87 2.00
10 American Family 1.89 1.89 1.94 2.18 2.10
Total Share Top 5 52.09 53.31 51.06 50.54 44.90
Total Share Top 10 69.56 71.26 68.19 67.94 59.30
Total Share Top 15 75.78 77.73 74.57 74.65 66.80
Total Share Top 25 83.28 84.91 81.98 82.56 76.50
Source: National Association of Insurance Commissioners 2013

by CollisionWeek: http://www.collisionweek.com/cw/news/2013/f0404-big.asp

Estimating’s Magic Wand

LIKE MAGIC One shop owner demonstrates the process of using a Matrix Wand, which uses two cameras to capture three-dimensional images of vehicle damage. The images can then be used to create more accurate estimates. Photos courtesy Matrix Wand

LIKE MAGIC One shop owner demonstrates the process of using a Matrix Wand, which uses two cameras to capture three-dimensional images of vehicle damage. The images can then be used to create more accurate estimates. Photos courtesy Matrix Wand

Mike Ross, owner of Hampden Auto Body in Englewood, Colo., is always on the lookout for new lean processes. He’s a member of the Repair Plan Network, a group of several Colorado shops that regularly exchange ideas for operational efficiency.

Ross has implemented many lean procedures, including a full blueprinting process that has improved quality, cycle time and accuracy of estimates. But the significant time required to develop those estimates remained as one bump in the road.

Ross says estimating structural damage is a cumbersome and time-consuming process. Vehicles have to be towed to the frame department, strapped down to the frame machine and measured to identify damage specifications. The nearly two-hour process was something that Ross knew needed to get leaner.

Enter the Matrix Wand, a handheld electronic measuring device for estimating structural collision damage. The tool, which was publicly launched by Matrix Electronic Measuring Systems Inc. in April, uses two cameras that capture three-dimensional images of vehicle damage. Once downloaded into computer software, estimators can use the images to measure all sway, sag and mash with any visible damage points.

Related Video

New Tool Streamlines Estimating Process
Rob Bailey, director of sales engineering and business development for Matrix Electronic Measuring Inc., details how the Matrix Wand adds efficiency and quality to shop estimating procedures. Watch now »

Ross says a fully accurate structural damage analysis can be printed out in less than 15 minutes—shaving hours off the estimating process while vastly improving accuracy. He says the technology’s accuracy has maintained supplement ratios at less than 1 percent, boosted efficiency throughout the shop, and improved profitability on most jobs.

The tool is currently priced at $30,000. It’s a hefty bill, but shop users across the country are recouping the investment in just six months with a revamped estimating process that brings in more money, accuracy, efficiency and repair quality.

Here are 10 ways the Matrix Wand can improve your shop’s performance.

1. Measure in three dimensions

Ross says the three-dimensional measuring capabilities allow him to measure the height, length, width and depth of damage, which can’t be achieved using traditional tram gauges. That allows him to identify the depth of holes, crumple zones, spot weld locations and twists in a component.

2. Estimate side pillars

Don Putney, president of Collision Equipment Experts based in Elgin, Ill., says there has never been a good way to measure side pillar damage on vehicles. Technicians often have to go through a repeated guess-and-check process, fixing the damage until parts fit properly.

Putney says the Wand is capable of conducting comparative damage analyses by comparing the damaged side of a vehicle to the specifications of the undamaged side. That allows estimators to identify exactly how much damage exists in the side pillar so technicians can fit parts on the first attempt.

3. Automatic calibration

Putney says many shops attempt to estimate structural damage without a frame machine by using tram gauges. But they often acquire inaccurate results because the tool or the vehicle isn’t always level.

With the Wand, you don’t have to worry if the vehicle is level. It automatically calibrates to create accurate measurements, regardless of how the vehicle is positioned.

4. Develop a database of repair information

Ross says the Wand allows him to measure undamaged vehicles to create his own bank of repair data and specifications. He says that’s beneficial because the information is based on actual vehicle measurements rather than specifications supplied by an information provider, which aren’t always 100 percent accurate.

And if you repair several of the same model, Ross says having the research on hand makes life easier for estimators. They know exactly what should be measured, quickly notice misalignment or gaps in panels, and identify inertia damage.

“That can save a lot of time in the diagnosis stage,” he says. “Estimators know exactly what to look for to help repairs get started quickly.”

5. Eliminate frame machine activity

Bob Winfrey, co-owner of All Pro Collision Repair, and collision instructor as South Piedmont Community College in North Carolina, says if he didn’t have the Wand, the process for diagnosing structural damage would take multiple hours and create significant bottlenecks, because Winfrey only owns one machine.

With the Wand, there is no need to enter the frame department for structural measurements, Winfrey says. The tool can capture the specifications from anywhere, with almost no disassembly, within minutes.

6. Easily obtain upper body measurements

Winfrey says upper body measurements can be difficult and time-consuming to acquire. The Wand easily and accurately measures upper body damage, he says.

7. Develop a full repair plan

Putney says some shops won’t measure for structural damage if none is visible upon inspection. That’s because they often don’t get reimbursed for the lengthy process if no damage is found. But that’s a poor option because hidden damage often exists, which can lead to problems with quality, part fit and liability if not discovered and repaired. Since the Wand identifies damage quickly, Putney says estimators are able to identify whether any damage exists with little effort.

Estimators are also able to quickly determine exact severity of the damage. Whether a rail has 20 or 40 millimeters worth of damage makes a significant difference in identifying problems in other areas of the vehicle, as well as how jobs are triaged through the shop.

Winfrey says that allows estimators to provide technicians with full documentation of necessary repairs up front. They’re able to thoroughly map out repairs and order parts before uncovering additional problems late and delaying the process.

8. Improve repair documentation

Winfrey says damage should never be written on estimates if it can’t be proven. And insurers don’t want shops to guess; they want to see a printout of exact specifications to justify the repair.

Winfrey says a vehicle recently came to his shop, and the insurance company wrote an estimate to repair the rear body panel, with three hours of labor time to pull the panel out. Winfrey measured the vehicle with the Wand, and uncovered additional damage to the quarter panels. He emailed the image and information to the insurer, and was able to add six more hours of labor time on the estimate to fix the other panels.

Winfrey says the documentation provided by the Wand helps tremendously with repair negotiations. He can clearly show adjusters every damage measurement to justify payment included on the estimate.

“That makes a great impression on insurance adjusters. I’m easily able to add time on the estimate to cover the cost of repairs,” Winfrey says. “None of the companies that I’ve presented the information to—including big ones like State Farm, Allstate and Nationwide—have ever questioned the results of the report.”

Winfrey says that’s nearly eliminated insurer reinspections, too. He used to wait an entire week for adjusters to inspect additional damage found, which constantly hindered cycle time.
“Insurers don’t have to come out to verify the information anymore,” Winfrey says. “They know where the information is coming from. The Wand has made it really easy to defend our repair recommendations.”

9. Use predictive wheel alignment

Glenn Corvert, owner of Arthur’s Auto Collision & Paint Inc. in Colorado, says many insurance companies don’t allow shops to write estimates for suspension components until the vehicle is on the alignment machine. But that causes supplements and delays when new damage is found because the vehicle is put on the alignment machine near the end of the repair process.

Corvert says the Wand includes a predictive wheel alignment application. It measures damage to suspension components, such as the engine cradle, knuckles, ball joints and rails. That allows Corvert to provide insurance companies with legitimate documentation to estimate those repairs up front so he can pre-order parts and keep work flowing.

10. Find all damage for additional profitability

Jan Srack, CEO of Matrix, says the company conducted a study that revealed three out of every 10 vehicles has hidden damage. Those problems are omitted from initial estimates, and shops often aren’t reimbursed for making repairs to damage found late in the process.

Winfrey recently repaired a BMW hit in the headlight. The insurance company’s estimate included two hours of setup and one hour of pull time at the frame machine.

After measuring the vehicle with the Wand, Winfrey uncovered additional damage to the car’s apron, strut tire and upper rail, amounting to several more labor hours that he could charge for.

Winfrey reports that he has been able to add roughly six hours of structural repair time to every estimate using the Wand. With labor reimbursement of $55 an hour, that’s more than $300 added to the repair bill on every job.

by Andrew Johnson Fender Bender: http://www.fenderbender.com/FenderBender/November-2012/Estimatings-Magic-Wand/

Allstate Touts Superiority of Genuine Parts

Allstate has been spreading the word with consumers about the superiority of genuine parts and is boasting that the insurer takes better care of its customers after an accident because its offers a Genuine Parts Guarantee.

In a television spot showing how the use of non-genuine parts may result in questionable repairs, Allstate says its Genuine Parts Guarantee means its customers will “never have to wonder” where their parts came from after an accident.

If they are driving a motorcycle, that is.

Allstate’s familiar voice man Dennis Haysbert says in the commercial, “Always get genuine parts. Get an Allstate agent. Are you in good hands?”

Watch the Allstate Genuine Parts Guarantee television spot entitled ‘Back in the Saddle.’

by CollisionWeek: www.collisionweek.com/cw/news/2013/0327-alls.asp

Google Shows Consumer Interest in Body Shops

Looking at what Google users are searching for over the past 10 years or so, the search term “body shop” has been on the increase since November 2008. The Internet search engine offers insight on what its users search for and the popularity of those searches through a service called Google Trends.

The intelligent search report not only covers the original “body shop” search term, but also includes related search terms such as “car body shop,” “paint body shop” and even “auto body repair.”

Texas and California are, not surprisingly, where most of the searches originate, however Ohio makes a strong showing as does Maryland and North Carolina.

The trend of these searches peaked in June of 2011, hitting an index high of 100, which it did again in June of 2012. The forecast (dotted line) is that consumers searching for a “body shop” will be nearly as numerous this summer with an index of 99 in June 2013.

Changing the search analysis to “Gerber Collision” shows the marked increase in those searches as the company grows its business in the U.S.

Try it out for yourself at Google Trends

by CollisionWeek: www.collisionweek.com/cw/news/2013/0325-goog.asp

Ford Looking to Smaller Vehicles for Growth in U.S.

A new report from Ford serves to underscore what will likely be a continuation of the trend toward smaller vehicles in the United States. Ford says it plan for future growth in the United States is centered around four key vehicle segments: subcompact, compact cars, small utility vehicles and midsize sedans, together, what Ford calls the ‘super segment.’

These four vehicle segments, taken as a whole, represent just over 50 percent of total new vehicle sales in the U.S. As recently as 2004, super segment sales were only 35 percent of the market. Ford expects more growth in the super segment, as baby boomers continue to downsize their vehicle purchases and first-time millennial buyers enter the market. Combined, baby boomers and millennials account for more than 160 million people in the U.S.

“The super segment is where Ford plans to grow in North America,” said Amy Marentic, group marketing manager, Global Small and Medium Cars. “Escape and Fusion have gotten off to very strong starts since being all-new last year, and we expect continued strong interest in both.

Combined sales of Escape and Fusion totaled 51,985 vehicles in February 2013, edging out combined sales for Toyota Camry and RAV4 (44,599 sales) and Honda Accord and CR-V (48,667 sales). Escape has been the best-selling small utility in the U.S. for the past two months.

From January through September of last year, Focus was the best-selling vehicle in the world (end-of-year data from all regions have not yet been reported), while Fiesta was No. 5 in global sales and the best-selling subcompact car in the world.

Year-to-date Fiesta retail sales are up 24 percent from a year ago while Focus is up 3 percent. Year-to-date retail sales of Fiesta, Focus and C-MAX in California, the biggest small car state in the country, are up 43 percent this year, in addition to a stellar 54 percent sales increase last year.

by CollisionWeek: www.collisionweek.com/cw/news/2013/0325-ford.asp

Counterfeit AC Refrigerant Poses Serious Danger to Technicians

The Coordinating Committee for Automotive Repair (CCAR) is alerting the automotive industry about the serious dangers of counterfeit and contaminated AC refrigerant after another 3500 cylinders of counterfeit refrigerant were seized by Saudi authorities earlier this month.

The problem is caused by counterfeiters who are manufacturing cylinders of AC refrigerant labeled as pure R-134a but in fact contain R-134a mixed with other refrigerants like R-40.

When R-40 is exposed to aluminum, commonly used in a/c system components, it forms a toxic, flammable and highly volatile compound known as trimethyl aluminum that is explosive upon contact with air.
R-40 is a harmful and dangerous material that is not suited for use in automotive R-134a a/c systems.

CCAR invited guest blogger Bob Miller of Train Them Now LLC to publish an article on the issue to help explain the dangers and offer some solutions for repairers that handle AC service.

According to Miller, if R40 is found in a system, the system is considered unrepairable. There is no safe and approved solution for removal of the refrigerant and neutralization of the aluminum compound that may have been formed.

Miller suggests several precautions:

– Always identify refrigerant on every vehicle before you hook your equipment to it
– Be wary of R-134a being sold well below the current market price
– look for misspellings or poor quality on cylinder labels that might indicate a counterfeit
– hook a refrigerant identifier to a new cylinder of R-134a as a precaution

Read the entire article on the CCAR Greenlink website

Contaminated R-134a whitepaper from Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute

by CollisionWeek: www.collisionweek.com/cw/news/2013/0222-coun.asp

UK- Audatex to Raise Paint Material Rate by 6 Percent

Audatex UK announced that, having now completed industry paint price reviews, the company will be making an upward adjustment to its paint price tables.

The impact of the detailed data supplied by the paint companies has resulted in an average increase of 6.26 percent on the calculated paint and materials. These calculations are based upon updated paint material tables which represent the basket of paint brands used in the Audatex system and take into account the market share of the brands within the overall basket.

Paint company/brand

Market share*
PPG

NexaAutocolor

18 percent

PPG

10 percent
DPC

Standox

7 percent

Spies Hecker

6 percent

DuPont

5 percent
Akzo Nobel

Sikkens

14 percent
BASF

Glasurit

12 percent

R-M

4 percent

Changes will be made for Akzo Nobel, BASF, DPC and PPG effective Feb 11, 2013 for online users. Offline users will receive the new prices as of the D4.13 data release.

Audatex notes that the percentage increase is for guidance purposes only, as the actual increase, per job, will depend on a number of factors including the specific paint operations (e.g. new part, surface, repair), paint type and the surface to be prepared/painted (e.g. metal vs. plastic).

by: CollisionWeek www.collisionweek.com/cw/news/2013/0211-uk-a.asp

Mercedes-Benz to Produce Inflatable Rear Seat Belts

Stuttgart. The Beltbag, one of the highlights from the ESF 2009 Experimental Safety Vehicle, is due to go into production in a luxury-class model from Mercedes-Benz. The inflatable seat-belt strap is able to reduce the risk of injury to passengers in the rear in a head-on collision by lessening the strain placed on the ribcage.
Should the crash sensors detect a severe frontal impact, the airbag control unit will trigger deployment and inflation of the Beltbag. A gas generator then inflates the multi-layered belt strap with Velcro seams to nearly three times its normal width. The resulting larger surface area is able to better distribute the force acting on the seat occupant, thereby reducing the risk of injury.
The Beltbag can be used in exactly the same way as a conventional seat belt. The belt strap’s design is different from that of the standard belt though, and received top marks in practical trials for being extremely comfortable to wear and for its extra-soft belt strap edge.
“Mercedes-Benz is pursuing its safety initiative in the rear of vehicles with the Beltbag,” comments Prof. Dr.-Ing. Rodolfo Schöneburg, Head of Passive Safety and Vehicle Functions at Mercedes-Benz Cars. “After all, the excellent standard of safety offered by Mercedes-Benz doesn’t just apply to all model series, but to all seats, too.”
Just like the active seat-belt buckle recently presented by Mercedes-Benz that is likewise earmarked for inclusion in a luxury model, the Beltbag was developed with a particular view toward new markets. There, the occupancy rate in the rear is as much as 30 percent, making it much higher than in Europe. By introducing the Beltbag, Mercedes-Benz is further expanding the safety system for passengers in the rear – in contrast to many other manufacturers, seat belts in the second row of Mercedes-Benz models already come equipped with belt tensioners and belt force limiters. It is not planned to introduce the Beltbag for the front occupants, as airbags are already included in the front on all models as a supplementary restraint system.
Because dummy measurement technology is not capable of quantifying the benefits resulting from a wider belt strap, such as the lower force exerted on occupants, the safety experts at Mercedes have also been working intensely with virtual human models, as such computer-generated models make it possible to obtain detailed findings on the biomechanical strain during a collision.
by Daimler Press Release: http://media.daimler.com/dcmedia/0-921-658892-1-1514820-1-0-1-0-0-1-12639-854934-0-1-0-0-0-0-0.html?TS=1360006743883

Consumer Reports Reminds Car Owners to Avoid Aftermarket Parts

In a post-Labor Day news release, ConsumerReports.org is once again reminding consumers how to avoid a claims-related problem should they be unlucky enough to have been involved in one of the estimated 75,000 to 100,000 auto insurance claims that will be filed as a result of the holiday weekend.

“In our most recent surveys,” the organization said, “10 to 26 percent of filers encountered a claims-related problem, depending on the carrier. So it pays to know the right procedures for filing a claim and how to deal with any glitches you might encounter.

According to the release, “Picking a top-rated insurer is also key to controlling your costs. An insurer can charge less in premiums but cost you more overall by lowballing loss estimates, forcing the repair shop to cut corners, and making you pay extra for the manufacturer’s replacement parts if you choose them over cheaper knockoffs.”

The group suggests that consumers turn to the Consumer Reports Car Insurance Buying Guide and their Guide to Insurance Claims for advice on how to “get your due” from car insurance policies.

In the April 2012 Consumer Reports Money Adviser, the group warns, “You might be pressured to take your car to a shop in the insurer’s direct-repair program or to use cheaper replacement parts instead of original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts. You’re under no obligation to accept either. Tests have found that some non-OEM parts fit poorly, are more prone to rust and corrosion, and might not meet federal safety standards.”

Consumer Reports notes in its Car Insurance Buying Guide that, based on its surveys, respondents’ satisfaction with repairs was significantly lower among those who felt pressured to use DRP shops and non-OEM parts. And respondents who said they were pressured to use non-OEM parts had significantly more problems with their repairs.

Consumer Reports Money Adviser: April 2012
Consumer Reports Car Insurance Buying Guide

by CollisionWeek: http://gcia.org/consumer-reports-again-reminds-car-owners-to-avoid-aftermarket-parts/