Car-mageddon – Will small businesses in the refinish industry be terminated by technology?

Imagine if everyone could get around easily and safely, without tired, drunk or distracted drivers. Last year 1209 people died on Australian roads. The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration U.S.A) cites that approximately 94 percent of accidents are caused by human error. Now imagine a time where cars don’t crash, sounds amazing!

With the increasing developments in driverless car technology it seems the ‘robocar’ could be here sooner than we think leaving us as permanent backseat drivers. Across the board, the automotive industry may be poised for more change in the next 5 to 10 years than we have seen in the last 50.

When it comes to self-driving car manufacturers, understandably people immediately think of the likes of Tesla and Uber who are known for innovation and industry disruption. Currently Tesla’s Autopilot cannot wholly replace a human driver: it requires well-painted line markings to locate the lane, its cameras can’t tell the difference between green and red traffic lights and it won’t obey stop signs. A recent study by Navigant Research shows that the heavyweights such as GM, Ford, Volkswagen Group, BMW-Intel-FCA and Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance are well into the research and development stage and closer to going to market. But the leader is Waymo, who are a subsidiary of Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc. Waymo has been working on autonomous vehicle technology since 2009, three times as long as almost all other companies.

Waymo currently drive more than 25,000 autonomous miles each week on complex city streets.

Other industries that have a symbiotic relationship to automotive refinish are already planning for this shift. Deloitte estimates future auto insurance premiums of $145 billion in 2040. This projections represents a nearly 70 percent decrease in premiums that the industry would have collected collect if there are no further advances in driver-assist technologies and autonomous vehicles do not become part of the national fleet, and ridesharing does not continue to expand.

Apart from the DIY restoration, occasional hail storm and falling tree will there be a need for smash repair shops? Fortunately for us, disruption is a journey, not a one-time event particularly when it is a product or service that involves our safety.

Our prediction – State 1, “Incremental change,” vehicles remain personally owned and driver-driven, much as today. In future state 2, “A world of car sharing,” driver-driven vehicles are accessed on demand, via car- and ridesharing. Future state 3, “The driverless revolution” sees the adoption of personally owned autonomous vehicles. Finally, future state 4, “A new age of accessible autonomy,” envisions a world of shared self-driving vehicles. The writing seems to be on the wall. Technology is being developed to take humans out of the driver's seat. This change will not only impact automotive refinish but many lines of business. How we live, where we live, and what we own will change dramatically.