Auto Service World
News   October 6, 2021   by Adam Malik

3 ‘big concerns’ that put the aftermarket at risk

A restricted network, latency features and over-the-air updates are three significant issues that threaten the viability of the automotive aftermarket, says a supplier executive.

Speaking during a recent episode of Curbside Chat, Mike Kealey, executive vice president of commercial at Dorman Products, said those “big concerns” are what stand in the way of a vibrant and successful automotive aftermarket.

On the issue of a restricted network, he told Bob Jaworski, chairman of the Automotive Industries Association of Canada, which hosted the chat, that there are existing fears around vehicle network security, especially as more and more vehicles can remotely communicate with devices.

So, naturally, the way to quell fears around vehicle security is to restrict access to the network by way of adding firewalls or encryption. That is indeed what’s taking place in today’s new vehicles.

“In either scenario, the firewall or the encryption, if we can’t understand or access those communications, we can’t write software,” he explained. “In that situation, it means no aftermarket part. And that’s the difference this time.”

That’s what’s at risk for the aftermarket if changes don’t happen. Blocking access to the software means “we no longer have the ability to create aftermarket replacement parts, at least those that are software-controlled,” Kealey added.

Mike Kealey of Doram Products, right, speaks on an episode of Curbside Chat with Bob Jaworski, AIA chairman.

And the list of parts that fall under this window is “growing significantly” every year.

“An aftermarket with no aftermarket parts seems to be a lot less valuable to the end-consumer than we typically have been,” Kealey observed. “That’s what drives a lot of our concern around the restricted access.”

The second concern is the latency features — those that are built into the software. He described them as, for example, the features that perform a specific task only in the event of a collision.

“Since it’s really impractical for us to be crashing vehicles to identify these features, it’s likely that anything that has feature latency, especially if it could be safety-critical, is simply not pursued by aftermarket manufacturers,” Kealey explained. “Again, it means no aftermarket part option.”

The final challenge is over-the-air updates. Similar to how your GPS or smartphone will update its software when the manufacturer says so, vehicles will soon be doing the same. This isn’t much of an issue today, but as 5G technology rolls out and the bandwidth becomes available, it will soon be a hot topic.

Put it this way, Kealey said: When your smartphone performs an update, all of your apps are updated to interface correctly with the new version. App makers and phone software companies work together in advance of an update to ensure everything will fine post-rollout. Apps that don’t keep pace generally will not work with the software update.

Now apply that thinking to a vehicle. There’s a module that works with, say, General Motors’ current software. But then the software is updated and the module wasn’t updated to work with the new version.

“That update could effectively render the aftermarket part inoperable if we don’t have any notification or any communication with General Motors,” Kealey said.

“In a scenario like that, who’s going to want to choose an aftermarket part?”

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