Auto Service World
Feature   November 1, 2013   by Andrew Brooks

Telematics Catches On

The technology is tried and tested - and in place for the aftermarket

The tide of automotive telematics technologies continues to develop. And the automotive OEMs continue to toss out challenges for the aftermarket. The decision by German automotive giant BMW to offer new car buyers ten years of free telematics service starting with the 2014 automotive year demonstrates just how seriously the OEMs view telematics as a hook to keep customers coming back to their service bays.

BMW has actually rented a huge data warehousing and analytics facility to store all the data they’re collecting from vehicles already, and they’re taking another step by putting up their own building right next door, says Ben Johnson, director, product management for Mitchell 1. “They’re collecting one terabit of data off these vehicles every day,” he says. “They’re using that information to understand their customers better and understand the types of readings coming off those vehicles when they go into shop. BMW gets it; they understand what the value of that data is. Of course they’ll use it to build better vehicles down the road, but they also want to keep that customer ‘sticky’ to the BMW service network into the future.”

Johnson chairs the recently formed Aftermarket Telematics Task Force (ATTF), which held its first meeting in July. The AATF is backed by a number of aftermarket stakeholders, including AAA, AAIA, AIA Canada, Delphi Products & Service Solutions, ETI, Robert Bosch Corp. and Drew Technologies, among others. The ATTF has been formed with the recognition that the development of automotive telematics technology presents an opportunity for the aftermarket — as much as for the OEMs — to strengthen their relationships with the automotive end user by enabling shops to communicate directly with vehicles and perform remote diagnosis and repair. The AATF has created policy, technical and marketing sub-committees to develop a broad picture of the impact of telematics development and to better understand the opportunities — or threats — it presents.

“Whether telematics represents a threat or opportunity really comes down to how we react to it,” Johnson says. “We have a tendency not to be proactive, to bury our heads in the sand — but if the aftermarket doesn’t respond then it will create a problem for them.”

As reported in previous issues of SSGM, to some extent the consumers have taken matters into their own hands — to the benefit of the aftermarket — by taking the telematics diagnostics reports to repair shops instead of back to the dealership service operations. Aside from that phenomenon, however, technology companies in the automotive sector have been taking up the challenge of providing the aftermarket with its own telematics solution, so that shops and repair facilities can provide customers with the same data-heavy repair profiles that the OEMs currently hope will keep drivers tied to the dealership service bays.

“Telematics is definitely an opportunity for the aftermarket,” says Jim Dykstra, president of Aftermarket Telematics Technologies (ATT) a company that develops the web services for the Delphi Products and Service Solutions (DPSS) Connect Car Telematics Solution, winner of the inaugural Aftermarket Telematics Challenge held at AAPEX last year.

“The technology’s been around a while, if you look at the fleet market and of course the OEMs,” Dykstra says. “With telematics in the aftermarket, it’s the business model that has to be established now, not so much the technology. And progress is definitely being made toward that business model. The technology is being sold today in shops — in my own shops today, we’re selling telematics solutions to customers and to small businesses.”

Delphi’s plug-and-play telematics device coupled with ATT’s end-consumer and business software completes the telematics loop for the aftermarket, Dykstra says. “The model is going to continue to penetrate the aftermarket. The key is to get it so the aftermarket can operate the way they have operated up to now and still use telematics in that business model. The Delphi solution delivers that.”

The technology needed to read diagnostic trouble codes was something that Delphi had developed over many years, says Malcolm Sissmore, North American sales director for Telematics, Tools and Training and country director for Canada at DPSS. “We asked ourselves how we could take these cool things and make them into a telematics program for the aftermarket. We had focus groups with shop owners and technicians where we asked them what they wanted from the OE side that they would like to see in the aftermarket.” Of course they definitely wanted to be able to remotely clear codes, same as the OEs do, and they also pressed for expanded capabilities such as predictive battery failure, Sissmore says.

Doing the Data

With the technology and business model in place, the key now is to gain access to the telematics data that the OEMs have every reason to want to keep to themselves. When asked if telematics is a threat or an opportunity to the aftermarket, Scott C. Luckett, Chief Information Officer for the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) points out that the term “telematics” covers a lot of ground and it’s important to be clear which part of telematics you’re talking about.

“Navigation, road-side assistance, vehicle locator and usage-based insurance pricing are fast becoming expected safety and security features in a new car,” he says. “But remote diagnostics and vehicle health management are unique in the impact they can have on the aftermarket. Left unchecked it’s a serious threat.” He believes the vehicle manufacturers are engineering a closed communication system within the vehicle that gives them a decided advantage when a fault code appears or maintenance is indicated. But, he says, “the aftermarket has a long tradition of innovation and engineering solutions that offer consumers freedom of choice in where and what service work they have performed. Telematics is merely the next frontier, albeit a high-stakes one.”

Information is the heart of the matter, Luckett believes. “The aftermarket believes that consumers deserve the freedom to choose the provider of service to their vehicle,” he says. “And the availability of electronic information from the operation of the vehicle should not alter that choice. ‘It’s Your Car … Your Data’ is our mantra.”

The OEMS have legitimate concerns over the safety and security of electronic systems, but the aftermarket is fully capable of ensuring proper and authenticated access to vehicle systems through agreed upon standards and best practices. “The manufacturers need the aftermarket to help deliver a satisfying customer ownership experience,” Luckett says. “Consumers who are pleased with their choices for vehicle repair and maintenance will favour that vehicle brand.” Conversely, drivers who take a vehicle to a repair shop and find that the systems are designed in such a way that the shop can’t perform the needed service are going to blame the automaker, not the shop.

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