Auto Service World
Feature   October 1, 2013   by Andrew Ross

Editorial Comment: High Tech Here and Now

Don’t think for a minute that I don’t recognize the rising need for everyone in this industry to understand the technological challenges that face it.

There is a coming wave of ever more sophisticated vehicle systems that will tax every individual’s capabilities, from the bay right up to the engineering labs of our most sophisticated aftermarket suppliers.

Telematics, accident avoidance systems, Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) communication, vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication, or self-driving vehicle technology HUD for data about objects in real time, will join (now sounding old hat, but still on the horizon) evolving hybrid and electric vehicle technologies to keep our brightest minds hopping.

I’ll bet that if you hosted a seminar on self-driving vehicle technology, you’d probably pack the place. And with the right approach and press, you’d probably even get a politician or two to attend. It would be an awesome thing to excite your community about. It would probably even elicit critics from around the block, talking about so-and-so heard that they crashed in testing, and so on, igniting a debate that could last for some time. It would, as they say, “have legs.” But it would do absolutely nothing for your customers other than pique their interest.

Judging from the demographics of the service professionals, very few will be still in a bay by the time they are in wide use – never mind that they wouldn’t hit aftermarket outlets until years later.

The reality is that even the most popular hybrids out there make up a very small proportion of the vehicle population; and other than those organizations with a hybrid taxi fleet as an account, hybrids will be few and far between for most service outlets. This is not to say that we should ignore all these developments, but they need to be kept in perspective.

I have to hand it to the founders of the recently created Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association Telematics Council for positioning it as being a factor to consider about 20 years down the road. That sounds about right to me (even though we’ve seen OnStar and its other branded siblings for a decade and a half).

The fact is that far too few technicians, counterpeople, and jobbers thoroughly understand the systems on vehicles that are currently filling aftermarket service bays to waste valuable training resources on the admittedly cool future ahead.

The simple fact is that the vehicles jamming our roads only seem mundane because we’re used to seeing them, but they are still incredibly sophisticated vehicles that take training and patience to understand.

OBD-II may be a teenager, but it’s not the same as it was in the 1990s. Mention Mode 6 data (also not new, but evolving) to a technician and they will know what you’re talking about, but dig a little deeper and on balance, I believe you’ll find that their understanding is often skin deep and they rely on their deductive powers, rather than solid training and understanding, to analyze what’s going on when emissions systems go wrong.

So I am urging the aftermarket to push for and deliver training that meets the needs of the service professionals and those who serve them, and leave the world of tomorrow to the folks who can afford to speculate about what the future might hold. This industry doesn’t have that luxury: it has cars to fix today.

—Andrew Ross, Publisher and Editor

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