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As vehicular technologies develop, Elm City automobile business owners are expressing uncertainty over innovation’s effects on business.
Recent advancements, such as self-driving cars, have led to speculation about the future of the traditional automobile industry. But for automobile repair shop owners, these changes are leading to safer drives and thus less demand for repairs , and owners of vehicle insurance companies say that safer rides also lead to fewer liabilities for their companies to cover. Though vehicle-related industry leaders in the Elm City differed in exactly what they were concerned about, all expressed a common belief: change is certain.
“With the age of technology and with all the safety systems that are being installed in these vehicles, it’s going to reduce the number of real accidents that may happen in the future,” said Dave Fogarty, a 37-year veteran of the industry and the wholesale parts director for the Lorensen Auto Group, which owns seven dealerships around the state.
Recent research and development has already led to front sonar technology, which can detect objects ahead of vehicles and force them to decelerate if the driver fails to slow down.
Signals have been developed to notify drivers when they shift out of their lane, and within the decade, fully self-driving cars are expected to hit the market. Tesla and Google have already tested prototypes for autonomous vehicles, said Tony Ferraiolo, president of the Auto Body Association of Connecticut, who also owns A&R Body Specialty and Collision Works in Wallingford, Connecticut.
As these new features expand, industry administrators expect fewer accidents to happen, said Bob Amendole, president of the New Haven-based shop Autoworks of Westville. But with the accidents that do occur, the cost of repairing each vehicle will increase since the mending will require more sophisticated labor and technology, Amendole said.
Some local automobile repair shops have begun updating their technology. Autoworks of Westville already installed the necessary infrastructure to service cars with newer technology.
But other automobile repair shops across the state are closing before they can prepare for these new services. In the last decade, roughly 35 percent of automobile repair shops have closed, Fogarty said. And out of the 350 automobile repair shops licensed today, only 27 are capable of fixing the high-tech cars, according to Amendole.
He added that these shops are primarily forced to close, not because of new technology, but due to the low rates — $52 per hour of labor — auto insurance companies agreed to pay automobile repair shops.
For New Haven-based Autocycle Insurance, the effects of self-driving cars on business is also uncertain.
“The insurance companies don’t know what’s going to happen,” Autocycle insurance agent Tom Hardy said.
Hardy said he believes that the state would not allow autonomous vehicles to be ridden without insurance. Riders would also need aid and coverage for when computers experience failure and when cars are out of the satellite reception that allows the vehicle to navigate.
Self-driving vehicles are also referred to as robotic cars.