‘Exploring the Driverless Vehicle’ discusses autonomous car growth and its industry effects

Discussion at ETI’s ToolTech 2015 raises issues of training, tools and repair

Austin, Texas—The perceived benefits of the driverless vehicle have car manufacturers hurtling toward a new world of improved mobility, reduced emissions and enhanced safety. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn spoke about these benefits in an article for LinkedIn’s “Influencer” series, saying “zero emissions, zero fatalities” is an internal company mantra. He believes “autonomous drive technology is a big step toward achieving the zero fatalities part,” and by the year 2020 he plans to introduce cars that can “negotiate city cross roads without driver intervention.”

Questions of growth in the autonomous car segment and the subsequent effects on the aftermarket were addressed at ToolTech 2015, the annual gathering of the Equipment & Tool Institute (ETI), held recently in Austin, Texas.

Executives from rival carmakers have suggested timeframes similar to Nissan’s for the introductions of their own driverless technologies. “I think 2020 is a reasonable date for almost the entire industry,” Honda R&D executive Jim Keller told WardsAuto. Meanwhile Google, Uber and others have been road testing self-drive cars for some time. 

Anticipating the looming arrival of fully autonomous cars, ETI hosted a discussion group, “Exploring the Driverless Car,” which brought aftermarket and OE reps together to talk about what they see lying ahead. The discussion focused on training, tools and repair strategies.

Discussion moderator Robert Vogt pointed out that the aftermarket is already exposed to some autonomous technology. Adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, parking assist and collision mitigation are a few examples on the road today that will undoubtedly find use in one form or another in the fully autonomous car.

With the enhanced use of sensing technologies such as radar and lidar (laser detection) questions of coding, programming, set-ups and calibrations arose. ETI executive manager and panelist Greg Potter asked, “What is the plan for training by the OEs?” Potter went on to remark that much of the need for repairs would be due to collisions, and since most dealers in the country don’t have collision repair facilities, the OEs should consider offering training to the aftermarket.

Difficulty of technician access to sensors and cameras was another issue raised during the discussion, as was the effects of inclement weather on sensing devices. Asked directly if dealer technicians needed OE expert assistance to repair autonomous systems on cars currently on the road, Jim Von Ehr of Nissan remarked that the main problems his company has seen is with calibrations of the cameras.

The question of availability of special tools led into a discussion of costs, which the participants expect to be prohibitive in some cases. Kurt Immekus of Volkswagen mentioned the possibility of a tool “lend-lease” program, and went on to suggest that the costs associated with special tools may lead to further specialization within the industry, in particular in the area of collision repair.

Issues of serviceability were mentioned frequently during the session, with the aftermarket clearly recognizing the challenges posed by the many differences in repair parameters between, and even within, the OEs. The panelists expect the sheer number of tools and procedures to be daunting. ETI’s Potter suggested this is an opportunity for an enterprising toolmaker to devise a common tool.

Plenty of interesting questions found voice in the discussion, but most remained unanswered by the end of the session. If nothing else, it appeared attendees walked away knowing more about the challenges the driverless car poses for them today and into the future, and perhaps feeling that 2020 was coming all too soon.

Parts & People

Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.