Auto Service World
News   April 21, 2023   by Adam Malik

A new strategy could make vehicle repair more complex

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Generally speaking, automotive aftermarket professionals can typically figure out what components are needed to fix a vehicle based on model year.

When new product announcements are made, suppliers will note the model years for which the new products are compatible.

But this may not be possible in the future, according to an industry expert.

Automakers are adopting a new strategy seen in other industries in response to being caught flat-footed when semiconductors shortages devastated their business.

It’s called ‘design for.’ In short, it means creating contingencies that can respond to hiccups, like a natural disaster, global pandemic, worker strikes and other unforeseen issues that would affect supply chains and result in production delays. In other words, they’re designing their products in a way that allows them to accommodate interruptions.

Tom Mayor, partner at management consulting firm Kearney, discussed this strategy during the recent Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA) Aftermarket Suppliers Global Summit in Florida.

“A lot of my clients are now adding to the lexicon of ‘design for’ — design for manufacturing, design for quality, design for sourcing. They’ve been adding ‘design for availability,’” he reported during his session, A Global Rewiring: Redefining Global Value Chains.

It’s a page out of Tesla’s book, he observed. Notice that Tesla had little, if any, issues with the supply chain and semiconductors. Why? Because they’re organized more like an electronics company that has a ‘design for’ strategy.

“It’s not because they had perfect forecasting and perfect ordering and didn’t pull back on their forecasts. It’s because they built a system in a software and hardware stack that allowed them to substitute chips of different capabilities and make up for deficiencies in the chip or over the capability of the chip by modifying software,” Mayor explained.

Now the bigger traditional automakers like Toyota, Ford and General Motors are going to look at their design process and figure out how they, too, can be flexible with components in their electronics.

That spells trouble for the automotive aftermarket if, or when, automakers go down this path of modules being a combination of hardware and software and able to make substitutions to accommodate shortages or deficiencies. That will lead to a fleet of vehicles where the aftermarket can’t count on the model year telling professionals what’s in the module. What’s inside may not depend on the year it was made, but rather on the interruptions the automaker faced at a particular time.

“And I may have three or four different versions of the module within a model year tied to specific VIN numbers,” Mayor said. “And we’re going to have to be prepared in the aftermarket to deal with that level of complexity as people rewire their supply chains around the world to be more flexible.”

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