The UK automotive industry is facing an uncertain future with many challenges and opportunities. In this blog, we discuss the challenges surrounding electric vehicle (EV) adoption in the UK, how the industry is tackling the push for sustainability, and the technological developments happening in the repair world.

Challenges surrounding EV adoption in the UK

Despite the growing popularity of EVs globally, the adoption of EVs in the UK has been hindered by several key issues. To get a clearer picture of the current landscape, we spoke to Martyn Rowley, Executive Director of the National Body Repair Association (NBRA) and Fixico’s Network Manager UK, Charles Crosby for their insights.

The core challenge to EV adoption in the UK is the weak charging infrastructure. Despite efforts to expand and enhance the network, the insufficient number of charging stations and slow charging speeds contribute to slower EV adoption rates in the UK. As a result, potential buyers fear the possible inconvenience of EV ownership. Martyn believes that change in this regard must come from government initiatives as addressing these infrastructure issues is crucial for the UK to achieve its carbon reduction targets and encourage the transition to more sustainable transportation.

Both Charles and Martyn agreed that an often overlooked but significant problem, particularly for Tesla and especially for Chinese OEMs, is the lack of available parts to repair EVs. This is the case even for MG Motor, despite their established presence in the UK market. Martyn adds that while there may be prospects for obtaining BYD parts due to support from the Chinese government, the same cannot be said for all EV OEMs from China. The impact of recent global events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 Suez Canal obstruction, and ongoing geopolitical conflicts cannot be understated, as even OEM approved repairers are facing challenges in sourcing parts, leading to repair delays and increased costs

Furthermore, there is a lack of available repair methods for EVs from China. Due to advanced and complex technology present in EVs as well as specific OEM requirements, the creation of standardised repair procedures is difficult especially for EV batteries. However, organisations like Thatcham Research are actively conducting research and development of new repair methods, providing support to Chinese EV OEMs like BYD and MG.

Due to the lack of available repair methods, UK repairers are hesitant to take on EV repairs. This reluctance is also fueled by concerns about the complexity of EVs and need for specialised training. Moreover, for repairers who are willing to undergo training, there’s a lack of readily available programs. However, there’s some improvement here with new training courses from the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) and the Emerging Skills Projects which was funded by the Department of Education. For example, there are courses which focus on educating repairers in fault identification and overhaul using the appropriate tools and standard operating processes.

"Repairing EVs remains a complex challenge. I've heard of some technicians who attempt to repair EVs without any formal training, putting themselves at risk. It's crucial for repair professionals to be properly trained and prepared to work on EVs, and this cannot be stressed enough." - Martyn Rowley, Executive Director, NBRA

Progress is evident, as despite a slower-than-anticipated rate, EV specialised repair shops are emerging in the UK. Furthermore, while training programs and repair methods are still developing, there is a strong emphasis on ensuring repairers receive sufficient training and certifications such as RMI EV Training. Martyn emphasises that body repair centres must prepare to meet the growing demand for EV repairs, especially with the anticipated influx of Chinese EVs expected to reach UK shores over the next 24 months.

The drive towards sustainability

The majority of UK repairers are yet to embrace sustainability

Though the momentum towards greener solutions within various industries is growing, Martyn believes that the majority of repairers have yet to embrace sustainability initiatives. He says that repair shops are currently divided into two camps: 70% who haven't embraced sustainability and 30% who are actively driving towards it. Furthermore, the sustainability efforts of repairers are often influenced by their suppliers, with those sourcing from sustainable providers inherently operating more sustainably. For example, some repair shops source from parts suppliers who specialise in recycled parts or from paint suppliers specialised in eco-friendly paint products and solutions.

How repair shops can become more sustainable

There are a variety of ways for repair shops to start becoming more sustainable. Martyn and the NBRA believe that shops can leverage ‘small wins’. They can implement various practices such as investing in equipment that facilitates efficient and sustainable waste disposal. Similarly, repair shops can collaborate with companies that collect and recycle materials like plastic bumpers into plastic granules.

It's noteworthy that sustainability should not merely viewed as a corporate social responsibility (CSR) endeavour but also as a strategic long-term investment for business growth. For example, some NBRA member shops have invested in solar panels which is proving to be financially viable, with a promising three-year return on investment.

Moreover, Charles outlines that by prioritising repairing parts over replacing, repair shops can cut down their carbon footprint. This is evidenced in a research conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute which indicated that repairing vehicle parts results in a significant reduction of CO2 emissions, with numbers ranging from 40% to 60% less compared to replacement.

Industry-wide advocacy and customer demands as the key drivers in the push for sustainable initiatives

The adoption of sustainable practices among repairers relies not only on individual efforts but also on an industry-wide push towards it. The key is to spread awareness for sustainability initiatives by communicating a consistent message among all industry players. This can be done through incentives such as awards that recognise sustainability efforts, motivating smaller repair shops who may prioritise profitability to actively engage in eco-friendly practices as they’re able to use these awards to differentiate themselves from other repair shops.

It’s important to note that a shift towards sustainability is dependent on customers, as their demands have the largest influence, often shaping industry trends. Many large insurance companies in the UK, such as Liverpool Victoria (LV=), AGEAS, AVIVA, and First Central, are actively pushing for sustainability within their repair networks, thereby serving as the primary drivers for this change.

"At present, repair volumes are low, creating an ideal opportunity for work providers to guide repairers towards sustainability. They can say to repairers: meeting these sustainability milestones can lead to more work for your shop.” - Martyn Rowley, Executive Director, NBRA

How technology can help repair shops improve efficiency

As with many other industries, technological developments are shaking up the UK repair industry. It’s important to note though that the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) hasn’t taken the industry by storm especially for the estimation process. However, Martyn sees the potential for AI within body shop management systems which he says can help streamline processes and improve inventory management. For instance, AI can cross-reference available inventory with manufacturer specifications, ensuring the correct parts are selected for repairs.

Virtual Reality (VR) can also be beneficial for the repair industry as it can be used to provide an immersive overlay of the vehicle being repaired, offering instructions for repairers unfamiliar with specific vehicle models. VR's applications extend beyond repairs and into training, offering immersive simulations to train repairers and potentially saving time and resources in the long run.

Moreover, Charles adds that when leveraged effectively, data insights can help repairers identify trends, optimise costs, and enhance decision-making processes. Particularly when repairers collaborate through benchmarking against shared data, allowing for mutual improvement. Data insights can also inform training programs, enabling repairers to improve estimation accuracy and operational efficiency. Embracing a connected ecosystem enables repairers to make use of data insights effectively.

Technological advancements can often be seen as a challenge for repairers as it can be quite hard to keep up. However, by embracing technology for themselves, it can help with improving workflows and overall make their lives much easier.” - Charles Crosby, Network Manager UK, Fixico

The top advice amidst a changing industry

In conclusion, the UK automotive industry faces new challenges but also significant opportunities especially for repairers. Although the adoption of  EVs has been slow, repairers must prioritise comprehensive training to safely service these vehicles. Additionally, while sustainability is not yet a primary concern for most UK repairers, embracing eco-friendly solutions will soon be essential. Small steps toward sustainability can lead to long-term success, driven by growing customer demand for greener practices. Moreover, the adoption of technologies such as VR and data analytics can help repairers streamline processes and enhance operational efficiency. Despite the uncertainties ahead, the industry must remain prepared and adaptable to navigate the evolving landscape.

“Repairers need to be totally agile and adaptable as in today’s changing landscape, flexibility is crucial for success.” -Martyn Rowley, Executive Director, NBRA