The state of automotive technology is often compared to the space race. How many times have you heard the technology in today’s cars as being more advanced than what we went to the moon with?
And to this I say, “Big deal.” Mankind went to the moon more than four decades ago, using technology that was developed and then tested to death while the Beatles were still together. And they needed a room full of engineers just to keep tabs on it. Heck, there’s more technology in my iPhone than an Apollo moon shot.
The point here is that using Space Age metaphors for what we see now on our roads has lost its relevance. People no longer think about space at all. It’s really not top of mind or that exciting for people, aside from a few nerdish geeks who keep track of how many people are actually living in space right now (the answer is six). Most of us don’t even think about that fact and that’s okay; if you remember your history you’ll remember that until Apollo 13 had its near catastrophe, there wasn’t even a plan to cover the mission on television, so ho-hum had the public become about the whole thing.
In contrast, the current hot-button topic of telematics has ceased to gain traction as a technology of critical concern to the aftermarket – not because it has become passé, but because there is simply too little understanding of what the impact, or impacts, of its expansion by the original equipment sector might have on the independent aftermarket.
This is at least in part because the technology itself is open-ended. It could be used for everything from simple passive data gathering to active vehicle software updating, customer relationship management, vehicle locating, advertising, marketing, and so on. It is a technology whose application has yet to be fully explored, and until it is, we won’t have a very firm grasp on how good or bad it might be for the aftermarket.
However, we do know from past experience with vehicle service information that when it comes to technology, the automakers will seek to control access to it. It is their initial and immediate reaction to any aspect of what they build, and it’s not restricted purely to items of information technology. Every dealership parts department has a whole raft of dealer-only parts, often made by the same manufacturers you buy from, but kept as the exclusive preserve of the dealer through agreements, for a time anyway.
This does not make them evil; you’d protect what you had if you could too. The big question is whether they should be allowed to hold it so tightly regardless of the application of that technology.
I for one don’t think so. To me, every car owner should be allowed to choose where they want to have their vehicle serviced, or their photocopier, or their iPhone for that matter. I do think it is reasonable to allow automakers a certain preserve over warranty repairs in the early years of a vehicle’s life, but even then I believe strongly that certified warranty repair services should be allowed at qualified independent repair facilities. This is already the case with simple services such as oil changes, but should also be extended to those facilities with the right tools and training to do what dealers do. Considering the vast expanse of this country and the sparse dealer population for much of it, this would only help Canadians be more productive, save money, and keep dollars in their local communities.
I do know that work done at many independent repair facilities is covered by independent warranties, but there are examples around the world of independent service facilities having the same status as dealers when it comes to repairs.
So what does this have to do with telematics? Maybe not a lot, but if the door to warranty service were forced open, it would remove an important consideration in the battle to keep OEM telematics as the sole preserve of the dealer, and make post-warranty service even less so.
Maybe that’s what we should be fighting for. It’s something to think about, anyway.
Andrew Ross, publisher and editor, Jobber News Magazine
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