The subject of insurance is not one that would typically generate much interest or enthusiasm if brought up in conversation. However, in the case of Thatcham Research – which was established by the motor insurance industry – there is a fascinating story to tell. A contingent from the IRTE’s Wiltshire Centre recently made a trip to the company, which celebrates its 50th year this year, to see how it had evolved from a vehicle repair centre, to an organisation committed to reducing the cost of insurance and maintaining safety standards.
As the UK’s only not for profit insurer-funded research centre, Thatcham Research invests a great deal of time and money to assist different strands of the automotive sector. For instance, it examines damaged vehicles, advises on new car safety/repair ratings and helps OEMs improve their own in-house repair and service offerings.
Without actually manufacturing any products, Thatcham has become a well-known name in the industry. It runs a group rating that insurers use to work out their premiums and also, on the safety side, has given its name to the standard surrounding factory fitted alarms and immobilisers. “We started in door skins and looking at more cost-effective ways of repairing a door, without having to replace the whole thing,” explains Dean Lander, head of repair sector services. “Since then, we’ve gradually grown the number of services we offer.
“We established a training offering in 1989 when car crime levels were rising, worked a lot in safer seats in response to increased personal injury claims and joined Euro NCAP in 2007, subsequently becoming a board member,” says Lander, adding that Thatcham Research conducts some 70 crash tests a year and a similar number of whiplash evaluations.
THE THATCHAM POSITION
Sitting in the middle of OEMs, insurers and consumers, Thatcham Research tries to take an objective view to insurance, making it as fair as possible for everyone. “Some 90% of the insurance industry funds what we do – they don’t have to, but they value what we do with repair, research and industry analysis,” explains Lander.
The company currently has three main research priorities under its ‘ACE’ banner: automated, connected and electric. As these new approaches to transportation are likely to dominate passenger cars, LCVs and trucks for the foreseeable future, having an organisation such as Thatcham Research investigating them could prove invaluable to the industry.
Importantly, Thatcham not only comes at the new tech from an insurance and repair point of view, but explains what these systems will mean for repair and maintenance technicians. It sets out training that can be applicable to any form of vehicle, given much of the technology is transferable and figuring heavily on the LCV market. For example, one of the key areas of development and research currently is in ADAS – such as LIDAR and sensor calibration.
TRAINING FOR ALL
Thatcham Research employs 230 full-time staff across its three sites. Bill Wing, academy services manager, explains there are four training schemes within Thatcham. “We offer commercial training to the repair and maintenance trade, bespoke work where we help OEMs and their staff; our stakeholders – the insurance community – and apprentices.”
The training centre covers a range of disciplines, including welding, glazing, ADAS, and MET (mechanical, electrical and trim). “We invest in vehicles and equipment for the training, choosing the vehicles for assessment that best fit our training schedules,” explains Wing.
In addition, there are 200 apprentices on the company’s books who spend week-long blocks at the facility, sandwiched in-between classroom sessions of up to eight weeks. To support the apprentice training, Thatcham observes and coaches them during their classroom work and also provides e-learning modules. Regular assessments are undertaken to ensure the students are hitting their training targets.
The apprentices also work on vehicles donated by insurance companies that have been written off after an accident. “The message is that when you come to Thatcham, you get to work on modern vehicles,” says Wing. “Some of the vehicles arrive in boxes of bits and then the technicians are challenged to put them together to create a vehicle that can run.”