Auto Service World
News   September 29, 2021   by Adam Malik

Why software challenges need the aftermarket’s attention

A senior leader at Dorman Products is calling on the aftermarket to better understand and rally around issues related to software as vehicles become more advanced.

As even the simplest components in a vehicle become software-based, the inability for the aftermarket to create replacement products is a major risk to the viability of the industry, warned Mike Kealey, executive vice president of commercial at Dorman Products.

Yes, there are the typical headline risks for the industry — such as the technician shortage and training for electric vehicles — but issues software restrictions aren’t getting the same amount of attention.

“The industry really can’t rally around a topic that’s not being discussed or understood. And that’s a big concern when I think about this particular situation,” he said during a recent Curbside Chat, hosted by the Automotive Industries Association of Canada.

Software essentially controls every part of the car, he explained. “As an industry, we talk quite a bit about telematics and the need for equal access to data and the data that your car is creating. Obviously, it’s an important critical topic for us as an industry. But we really never talk about the software that runs the car.”

He used the example of Microsoft Excel. That’s the software. The spreadsheet you create is the data. So in an automotive light, the software allows for the data to be collected by the car.

Mike Kealey, of Dorman Products, speaks during an episode of “Curbside Chat” hosted by AIA Canada.

Even something as simple as the window on a vehicle is controlled by software. It went from being a manual crank to a circuit board operation with embedded software.

But without access to that software, the aftermarket is in a position where it can’t replicate those products.

“For us to continue to effectively create replacement products and solutions, we’re going to need to be able to identify all necessary features, functions and interfaces, these products, then lay out the physical hardware, and finally write the software that’s going to replicate all those original functions,” he explained. “That software cannot be created unless we have access to the vehicle’s network.”

Automakers are restricting network access, Kealey noted.

“That is a challenge that is really front and centre for us and one that doesn’t get a lot of publicity. It doesn’t get a lot of conversation in the space,” he said.

He further explained the aftermarket’s role as one that creates a solution to replace the part that the original equipment manufacturer and tier one supplier created when it fails. But it’s not like the OEMs and their partners hand over information on how to create a replacement.

“We have to put it together — we have to build the blocks — or reverse engineer what the device is doing,” Kealey explained. “The only way we’re able to do that is by monitoring the vehicle’s network.”

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