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Monday, November 06, 2006

Salvage Returns vs. Parts Availability

For years, the interdependency between total loss frequency, salvage recovery rates, and the use of recycled parts has been a subject of interest to the collision repair industry, with different constituents having different perspective on the above-mentioned relationship. Insurers, collision repairers, salvors, and dismantlers each assert that the others’ business practices negatively affect their customers and profits, with the end victims apparently being vehicle owners, who ultimately pay the price in higher insurance premiums.

Mitchell International conducted a series of interviews with various industry participants to compile a list of the ten, most commonly held beliefs/assumptions in this area. The next step was to verify or challenge these assumptions by researching the facts of the matters using a mix of sources such salvage pools, collision repair shops, insurance carriers, and independent adjusters. We expect our findings, which appear below, to be of interest to many:

Assumption: The average repairable estimate total is increasing significantly.
Status: FALSE
Average repairable estimate totals have changed very little between 2004 and 2006, and have actually decreased 4% ($92) since 2003, though increasing slightly the past three years.

Assumption: Most collisions are front impacts and are often declared total losses
Status: TRUE
We analyzed several thousand repairable and non-repairable vehicles looking for a correlation between the point–of–impact and the total loss rate. Our analysis revealed vehicle impacts are distributed as follows, and more-or-less as expected:
Front 45%
Rear 29%
Left 13%
Right 12%
Unknown 1%

Point-of-impact had a significant effect on the likelihood that a vehicle would be totaled. The data showed that fifty percent (50%) of front-end collisions get totaled, twice the rate at which rear-end collisions result in totaling, and nearly four times the rate for side-impacts. Our appraisal analysis and industry surveys confirmed that air bag deployment, power train damage, and extensive (and expensive) front-mounted electronic components can quickly total out a vehicle in a front-end collision.

Assumption: Total losses ratios are increasing every year
Status: TRUE
We looked at total loss rates for several carriers across the US from 2003 through 2005 and found that—in 2003—the state total loss rate varied from 10% to over 26%, with the majority of states (31) falling in the 16–20% range, and only one reporting total losses at 26% or higher. By 2005, twelve states were reporting total loss rates of 26% or more, with only five states continuing to report “low” total loss rates. Our research confirms that most carriers have experienced a steady increase in total loss rates of 1% (or 5% marginal growth) each year over the past several years. Some carriers
have attempted to mitigate, or even reverse this trend by searching for economically viable ways to repair more vehicles.

Assumption: More salvage is going overseas, impacting domestic parts availability and pricing.
Status: TRUE
It is widely accepted amongst salvage pools that more cars than ever are going overseas. Some border/coastal pools claim that 40% of their “rebuildable” salvage goes to international buyers. Dismantlers are being outbid by these buyers and believe that this will cause a recycled parts shortage, driving the total loss rates even higher. But why is this happening? One reason is web bidding. Before Internet bidding was available, an international buyer would have to fly or drive to the US to participate in an auction, requiring considerable time and expense on the part of international buyers in order to participate in bidding. The combination of local and Internet bidders helps drive record salvage recovery rates. Another reason for the increase in salvage recovery rates is favorable exchange rates. The US dollar has softened considerably since 2003 compared to other currencies. In fact, international buyers have seen a 32-44% increase in their buying power since 2003. For European buyers, salvage valued at $10,000 USD cost 9,708 Euros in 2003, but dropped to only 7,917 EUR Euros by October 2006. This overseas buyer has become so common that shippers provide reduced container pricing for a “four pack” of vehicles to a European base port, often as low as $925 per vehicle. In combination, ready access to domestic auction markets, increased purchasing power due to favorable exchange rates, and reduced shipping costs (also impacted by exchange rates) make the US an attractive market from which to acquire salvage.

Assumption: Shortages of available recycled parts are driving parts prices higher, further increasing total losses.
We analyzed thousands of estimates from 2003 through mid-2006 looking for a trend in pricing, recycled parts usage, or percentage of the estimate dollar. The average part price has actually decreased from a high of $132 in 2003 to $122 in 2006. As a percentage of estimate dollars, recycled parts have held flat at just over 11% during the same time period. Regardless of the measure utilized, the use and price of recycled parts has been flat for the past four years.

Assumption: The increasing number of total losses is driving lower salvage return rates.
Status: FALSE
Finally, we looked at how total loss rates would affect salvage returns. Some states with high total loss rates had high returns and others had the opposite. We couldn’t find any direct correlation, and neither could other industry experts with whom we consulted. While most would expect that a high number of total losses would drive down returns (too much supply) quite the opposite was often true. Vehicles that were arguably totaled out too early can become valuable as salvage, fetching top dollar when sold at auction.

So, what’s the bottom line on Salvage Returns vs. Parts Availability?

• For most carriers, the relatively flat “repairable” estimate has been at the cost of increasing total losses. As fewer and fewer “hard-hits” are repaired (and instead totaled) the overall repairable estimate figure can appear artificially low.

• When more vehicles get totaled due to front-end collisions, salvage pools end up with the task of remarketing a disproportionate number of front-end damaged salvage vehicles to buyers seeking undamaged front-end components.

• When an insurer works hard to lower their total loss rate by repairing more cars, they will inadvertently lower their salvage returns by turning only heavily damaged vehicles—which contain fewer salvageable components—over to the pools.

For the foreseeable future, we can expect that the number of total losses will continue to increase, due to the inclusion of additional (expensive) safety devices and electronics, and the reluctance of vehicle owners to accept the repair of a heavily damaged vehicle. US salvage buyers will have to compete with international buyers at least as long as the exchange rate stays in their favor. The usage and price of recycled parts will remain relatively flat until insurance companies perceive the benefit of recycled parts vs. other repair options.

By Keith McCrone, Senior Director, Product Management, Mitchell International from the Mitchell Industry Trends Report

Monday, October 16, 2006

Bring salvage oversight into the 21st century

Salvage yards have long been part of Vermont's rural landscape. Rare is the community or back road that doesn't feature a house with junked cars sprawled on the lawn or back yard, or a salvage yard with tires and other mechanical debris piled inside corrugated metal fencing.

About 70 salvage yards are licensed with the state. Environmental officials estimate that close to 200 probably should be licensed.

Well-run salvage yards are environmentally and economically important. They are businesses that provide income. They are the original recyclers -- collecting and distributing for reuse car parts, cast-off tires, recyclable fluids and more. And they are a safe repository for hazardous chemicals such as mercury that require protective disposal.

In the past, the state gave wide berth to these operations. That is no longer acceptable, however, as our understanding of their environmental threats improves and the hazardous materials associated with scrap, particularly trucks and automobiles, increases.

Salvage yards are an important part of Vermont's past and present. They must be better regulated to remain a part of this state's future.

All licensing and regulation of these yards should be moved to the Agency of Natural Resources; the definition of a salvage yard should be clarified; education and outreach to operators of salvage yards must be improved to encourage safer operations; and more.

Jeffrey Wennberg, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, told the Free Press on Friday that much of that work is already under way. His department and the Agency of Transportation are crafting legislation for the coming session to ensure that regulation of salvage yards is brought into the modern era.

Salvage yards are a potential environmental hazard because of the fluids and gas that could leak into the groundwater supply -- pollutants such as antifreeze, gasoline, oil, brake fluid and refrigerants. Even stacks of tires create the potential for a fire hazard.

Vermont is certainly not alone in grappling with this challenge of bringing salvage yards up to standard. The Utah Department of Environmental Quality and many other states provide fact sheets touting the benefits of salvage recycling, but outlining the proper disposal of fluids, batteries, wastewater, antifreeze and other materials linked to vehicles. The federal Environmental Protection Agency also provides information to states.

In Vermont, salvage yards are licensed by the Transportation Agency, but regulated through a variety of programs in the Natural Resources Agency. That is a complicated system that should be simplified.

Clearer regulation of these operations is a must. Any potential changes should:

Include ideas from salvage and junkyard operators, as well as their neighbors and local officials. The best regulations have buy-in from the stakeholders.

Recognize that some Vermonters have a few unregistered cars and trucks around to use for parts, and farmers rely on unregistered vehicles to run their operations. These are not typically the polluters that regulation should be focused upon.

Move licensing of salvage yards out of Transportation, and coordinate all licensing and regulation programs in one Natural Resources office. (Wennberg said this is already being drafted, which is good news.)

Include the personnel to ensure compliance with the regulations.

The commissioner said his department is also concerned about past leaks from salvage yards, even those that are closed or operating appropriately. Efforts to find and clean up those spills also will be part of the package, he said. That is appropriate.

Many salvage yard operators run a decent business and follow the best practices to ensure their operations respect environmental realities.

Others run their yards as they have for decades, unresponsive to modern-day concerns about the potential hazards of leaking wastes, burning tires, discarded mercury switches and other threats that ooze from scrap into the air, earth and water.

Vermont needs its salvage yard recyclers to stay in business, but in a manner that doesn't scrap this state's environmental ethic.

Welcome to the world of Auto Recycling

Auto Recycling - formerly known as Auto Wrecking, Auto Salvage, Junkyard, Scrapyard - represents the largest recycling or "green" industry in the world. Today, 95% of all vehicles are recycled, and 85% of a vehicle can be re-used or recycled. Pretty impressive, but that leaves about 500 pounds per vehicle that must be landfilled as ASR - auto shredder residue. And what about operating fluids - oils, gas, coolant, windshield washer fluid. Or hazardous materials - batteries, gas tanks, mercury switches. Tires? Windshields? Plastics?

More to come in the exciting and misunderstood industry.