As vehicle complexities increase, ‘bottom-feeder’ repairers will be left behind

Technology & Telematics Forum at NACE/CARS points to a higher-level skill set on the horizon for repair professionals

Detroit—The second annual Telematics & Technology forum at NACE/ CARS, held recently at the Cobo Center in Detroit, assembled industry experts and hosted multiple panels to discuss emerging technologies, from the “Internet of Everything” (IOE) to the age of the “Connected Car” and what it will mean for the future of the independent aftermarket.

The point was made clear over the course of a three-hour discussion that manufacturers will increasingly design vehicles with telematics in mind – which was broadly defined as a vehicle’s ability for a car to send and receive information - and the those in the industry that haven’t kept up with incremental and continuous training will be forced to push work up to trained independent repair shops.

“All the discounting shops that haven’t kept up with incremental training are going to have an increasingly hard time catching up,” said Bob Stewart, aftermarket service support manager for General Motors. “Where will the bottom-feeder get work in 10 years? As technology increases and the quality of parts extends the life modern vehicles, the real paying work will float to the top-tier shops that have changed their business model, and learned to understand data and sell diagnostics – the future is very bright for those shops.”

Stewart added that while electrical systems will continue to increase in complexity, basic electronic failures will always require a fundamental understanding of electricity. Independent repair shops must then focus on changing the way diagnostic time is explained and sold to its customers.

“Good service information and diagnostic equipment will certainly be needed now more than ever,” Stewart said, “but all the talk about telematics being the ‘end of the aftermarket’ is incorrect. That has been toted ever since electronic fuel injection came out and the aftermarket has adapted and endured. What you will see, however, is a raised skill set – not just anybody will be able to do this work anymore.”

His point was well illustrated by product presentations of forthcoming telematics options in GM vehicles by Alan Lustre and Katul Patel, two of GM’s advanced service design engineers.

Lustre and Patel presented some of GM’s current technology options in vehicles, which included a safety alert seat, park assist, following distance indicator, forward collision alert, lane departure warning, auto braking and adaptive cruise control, among others.

But even more impressive was what’s coming, specifically options such as surround vision/ curb view and night vision. Lustre said both the surround vision/curb view and night vision cameras will both require special tools to repair. Surround vision will require a camera calibration mat to be used in unison with a GDS2 scan tool to calibrate and align the cameras after a camera or video processing control module has been replaced; and the night vision cameras will require using a target and scan tool to properly align when it is replaced or removed from the grill.

New technology isn’t just making an impact on consumer options, as evidenced by a product presentation by Bernie Porter, head of Calibration & Controls at MAHLE Powertrain LLC.

Porter presented MAHLE’s SENT technology at the forum, which he described as a high-speed digital connection system being used in some OE manufacturers powertrain systems already, trumping the older analog device communication systems.

“SENT technology is extremely robust and 98 percent accurate,” Porter said. “Through a network of sensors on the powertrain units, SENT detects communication sensor issues and can identify if there is a failed component and tells the system if there is or isn’t interruption in communication. It was designed to reduce the number of connections in a powertrain system and allow technicians to diagnose failures quicker, provide a calibration standard and provide parts and serial numbers for failing components on a fault code.”

The idea of information availability for the aftermarket, especially with regard to consumer safety, connectivity and access to aggregate repair information, was also a hot topic at the forum.

With the Connected Car and IOE changing the way shops communicate with customers, and the continuing trend for shops to use remote diagnostics by pulling information stored in The Cloud and using it to access the vehicle, the aftermarket and manufacturers must come to an agreement on who owns the vehicle information and who can access it, Greg Potter, executive manager and chief operating officer of the Equipment and Tool Institute, said.

Potter said that because the aftermarket doesn’t have access to any telematics systems, discussing it with customers isn’t advised. “Independent shops have a limited ability to use telematics systems. If and when that will change, nobody knows, but it’s a hot topic right now that I’m optimistic it will end well for the aftermarket.”

Udi Naami, CEO of Fusepoint LTD, and Harlan Siegel, vice president of Launch Tech, added that the applications and telecommunications market is a big dollar market, one that the aftermarket shouldn’t be surprised is being exploited and leveraged by the OEMs. Siegel maintained that one area of concentration right now should be the elimination of the generational education gap for older technicians by focusing on increasing the use of new technology as a diagnostic avenue and selling them on the idea that it acts as a service for customer.

Udi Naamani added, “The IOE is said to be the third evolution of information technologies. First was the introduction of onboard computers, second was the introduction of Internet connectivity, third is the introduction of the IOE. Each one has changed the industry and it’s common understanding that the same thing will happen with the IOE. What you see today with onboard diagnostics and telematics are two main issues: Where is the data going to come from? When you have it, what do you do with it?”

The forum ended with an informal panel discussion, moderated by Donny Seyfer, ASA chairman, Bob Stewart of GM, and Chris Chesney, senior director, customer training at Advance Auto Parts. Chesney said as the industry raises itself up, the business model must follow suit. “What hasn’t changed in the last 60 or 70 years is the way we run our businesses. We’re still paying our technicians the same way, we’re still trying to train our techs the same way, we still expect them to buy every tool for themselves, but we don’t ask them what is important to them. As the industry evolves into a higher skill set, we need to start talking to our people and adjusting our business model to meet the needs of our team.”

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