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Will Tesla’s I-CAR welding partnership look like 3-part welding series or its JLR courses?

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Announcements | Business Practices | Education | Repair Operations | Technology

It’s the million-dollar question about Tesla’s announcement it would cease testing certified auto body shops itself and instead delegate the welding exams to I-CAR:

Will that testing take the form of I-CAR’s in-house three-part welding series, or what some shops told us was more rigorous Jaguar Land Rover coursework administered by I-CAR on that OEM’s behalf?

The answer could determine which standard of welding Tesla owners — and not just Model 3 drivers, but potentially Roadster, Model S and Model X owners as well — might receive on their vehicles as well as how easily auto body shops can qualify for the Tesla body shop network. Only Tesla certified repairers can receive structural parts for collision repairs.

Of course, it’s also possible OEM might want one level of auto body repair competency for the mass-market Model 3 and a higher standard for the higher-end Model S, X and Roadster.

At this point, it’s all up in the air. Tesla did not respond to inquiries, and I-CAR on May 1 declined to comment and referred us back to Tesla.

“I-CAR does not have any comment on the Tesla internal announcement at this time,” an I-CAR spokeswoman wrote in an email. “It may be in your best interest to contact Tesla again for further information.”

Tesla informed its certified collision repairers in April that it would replace its in-house training and welding requirements for curriculum held online and administered by I-CAR, respectively.

“Building on the past 5 years of experience, we have been able to evaluate and dramatically simplify training, and will no longer require instructor led, onsite training,” Tesla wrote in an email to its certified shops obtained by Repairer Driven News. “We have developed online training as a more time and cost effective way to train your technicians to be approved for Tesla repairs. Online training offers many benefits not possible solely with instructor led training, such as unlimited reviewing of procedures, more frequent class offerings and updates for the network, and less time to train our whole technician population vs cycling everyone through constrained class rooms. Cost to you is greatly reduced, as weeks of lost production and travel expenses are eliminated as well. …

“Structural technicians will no longer have to travel to Tesla for onsite weld training and recertification. We have created an arrangement with ICAR to achieve the necessary qualification, without the expense of lost production and travel previously required.”

I-CAR offers three welding certification tests, all held on-site at the shop for which the welder being tested works. It also administers Jaguar Land Rover’s certification program, requiring travel to I-CAR’s Appleton, Wis., facility for instruction by teachers who’ve traveled to Europe to be trained themselves.

Different audiences

We’re not trying to disparage I-CAR’s in-house program, which tests technicians with three courses. “Steel MIG Welding” (WCS03), “Steel Sectioning” (SPS05) and “Aluminum MIG Welding” (WCA03).

The aluminum welding course is after all required for General Motors’ Cadillac CT6 network and Ford’s certified collision repair network, respectively. Shops who haven’t had their welding personnel independently vetted should take all three of the educational program’s courses or find a comparable means of proving competency.

But even I-CAR itself says its program isn’t equivalent to European luxury OEM welding certification, including what it teaches and tests on behalf of JLR. Certified shops suggested Tesla’s existing testing is closer to Jag’s than the general three-part I-CAR curriculum.

“We’re not going to be operating at the level of a Mercedes or a JLR,” I-CAR director of business development Elise Quadrozzi said of the general welding curriculum.

I-CAR business development director Nick Notte described I-CAR’s welding courses as focused on the immediate need — getting some kind of formal welding training to the 69 percent of the industry lacking it. It’s a battlefield medic stabilizing the patient, not a surgeon stateside. (Our analogy.)

“We offer a pretty valuable option,” Notte said — repairers could get an eight-hour crash course rather than cease work for days of training. And veteran welders leave saying, “’I didn’t know what I didn’t know,'” he said — an indication that the class had value.

Certified shops

Not all of the four Tesla-certified shops interviewed for this story — which we’ll call Shops A-D to preserve their Tesla relationships — had JLR certification, but all were familiar with I-CAR’s in-house program, and described it as easier than the existing Tesla welding requirements.

There was strong opposition to substituting the I-CAR welding series for Tesla’s welding testing, but the two with JLR experience seemed to indicate the Jag-I-CAR curriculum would be an acceptable replacement.

The owner of Shop D described the California welding training he took earlier in the decade for Tesla as the “grueling piece of getting a weld to meet Tesla requirements” and very similar to the JLR test. “The pressure was on,” he said.

“It’s nowhere close to what I-CAR teaches today,” he also said.

“It’s challenging,” agreed Shop A’s owner about Tesla’s welding test. “… It’s only for seasoned technicians.”

Lowering the Tesla welding benchmark would be “just crazy,” he said.

“That’s the frightening thing,” Shop B’s manager said of the possibility that Tesla would rely on I-CAR’s core welding program only. He said I-CAR’s aluminum welding course was too easy.

Some of the owners also pointed to Tesla’s expansion of approved welding equipment as an excessive relaxing of standards by Tesla.

Shop D’s owner said that only one welder used to be approved by Tesla — a Fronius, the “welder of choice” for other OEMs with in-house welding tests.

Now, eight are approved, a factor Tesla pointed out in its email to shops.

“That piece of it already tells you” that Tesla was “watering it down,” Shop D’s owner said.

“On the equipment horizon, we have already approved 8 of the most popular aluminum welders prevalent within the collision repair industry,” Tesla wrote. “We are exploring promising alternatives to other equipment for which we previously offered limited options. Other coming improvements will expand estimating system offerings, and reduce the time and cost of structural part replacement.”

“They’ve dumbed down the equipment so much,” the manager of Shop B said. In the past, Tesla required the same welders it did in the factory. Now, “some of it, quite frankly,” was “junk.”

It seems that adapting the Tesla program to mimic the JLR offering at I-CAR would be a better fit to ensure parity with existing Tesla certification — assuming that is still Tesla’s goal.

More information:

Tesla email to certified shops

Tesla, April 18, 2017

I-CAR welding program webpage

I-CAR Jaguar Land Rover webpage

Featured image: Robots work on aluminum Teslas in this undated Fremont, Calif., factory photo provided in 2012. (Alexis Georgeson/Provided by Tesla)