How Do You Adapt in the Age of ADAS?
Advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) has become one of the industry’s biggest buzzwords. It’s the four-letter acronym on everyone’s mind these days.
And the technology may still be developing, but one thing’s clear. It’s not just for the collision industry anymore.
Repair shop owners ahead of the curve are finding that an investment in ADAS-focused tools and training has not only helped them resolve repair issues and best serve their customers but the service has also become a budding profit center—at considerable cost.
In a recent webinar sponsored by Kukui, Ratchet+Wrench checked in with two shop owners, Scott Brown and Bryan Kauffeld to learn all about the top factors shop owners should consider before deciding when and how to take the plunge with ADAS.
Brown is the owner of Cardinal Plaza Shell and founder of LEVEL 5 Solutions, a new business-to-business company performing ADAS calibrations, while Kauffeld is the owner of Ulmer’s Auto Care and founder of the ADAS Center of Cincinnati (which is dedicated entirely to the calibration of advanced driver-assistance systems following vehicles’ repair and maintenance). Both offered valuable insights on their new businesses and what they’ve learned from their new ventures. Read on for some of their first-hand accounts and key takeaways or check out the full interview here.
Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
How did you know your market was ready for an ADAS center?
SB: We were seeing a limited but increasing number of cars out of [Cardinal Plaza] that have lane keep assist, or front cameras, or proximity sensors where we're having to take bumpers on and off for various reasons, so I needed to have someplace to take [those cars] for that.
Right away we realized that we couldn't do ADAS at our current location. There’s just not enough physical space—we needed to have a minimum 30 feet in front of the front bumper and 15 feet on either side—and the floors are not level, they slope and drain. You need to have quality lighting and lighting control. So we knew we needed to find a separate location.
We also realized that along with the expensive equipment and the space that you need, the amount of vehicles that require calibration from my shop wouldn't be enough to ensure a return on investment, so we needed to make sure that we would have business, from collision shops and other repair shops. I all but exhausted my personal network in the area and spent a good 18 months building those partnerships before opening our doors.
We were able to come up with some financial numbers and projections and determine that it could be a profitable business by month two, which is pretty unusual for a brand new shop. That was a major determining factor.
How did you formulate the concept for your ADAS center?
BK: Coming from the repair side, we noticed as our operation got busier it was best to have one person do most, if not all, of the programming and work on the “problem children.”
We were able to focus on much more profitable repairs and when something needed to be programmed, we had someone to do it. We already had many OE tools so we thought what can we do to capitalize on this? We had a building that we had already owned. It did have a couple tenants but we thought it would be perfect for a standalone center.
What were some of the challenges you encountered?
BK: When we got into our building we discovered that to make it work would be much more costly than originally planned.
We thought we’d be able to level the floor that was already there, but it just was not a viable option. We had to remove the entire concrete floor. At that point we decided we might as well put in a couple ground cassette lifts as well as a Hunter alignment machine. We put in a Hawkeye aligner as well. It was just a big costly endeavor.
We've added six lines in the last three months. We were having quite a few problems with Mazda so we recently added what we needed for that. When it comes to Volkswagen or Audi we had pretty good luck in the past, but not when it came to the ADAS side of things. We added full capabilities for Acura and Honda. It's been a significant investment in OE equipment, Not to mention, we’ve started to accumulate targets.
It adds up quickly, but at the end of the day our customers are trusting us and we have to have the right equipment to be able to do things correctly.
Your facilities are standalone, but if someone wanted to try an ADAS setup out of their existing facility, how doable would that be?
SB: I have given this a good deal of thought. There are a limited number of ADAS calibration functions that you can actually perform on the newest Hunter machine and you can accomplish that by sending your existing alignment tech for additional training.
Most shops I come across are not equipped with a technician or with the equipment they’d need in order to do their own programming. If they're not already doing that, I don't see how they have a shot at doing this as a standalone business in their bay. You’d almost need to create a paint booth-type atmosphere within your shop and I'm not sure how realistic that is.
The equipment takes up a great deal of space and to assemble all the equipment, put on the targets and disassemble all the equipment.that adds a tremendous amount of time.
I think that for most shops, if you've got the space and you've got that technician, both of those elements can probably be put to much better use in other ways, rather than having that amount of space or technician dedicated to ADAS.
BK: I agree. This is also a very clean side of the business (the floors, the lighting, etc) and to have it in an existing shop where other cars are being worked on, where it's loud, you've got oil and things everywhere, it’s just too much and things will start to get in the way. Even if we did have a considerable amount of space, I think the businesses are best separated.