13 Jul 2024
The voice of the independent garage sector

AI: Rise of the machines?

What does the rise of AI mean for the aftermarket? How should individuals and businesses react to the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead?

 

Artificial intelligence (AI) is going to change the world of work. Most industries are expected to be affected in some way, including the motor trade. The level of impact will depend on the type of work being performed, and how it takes place. Independent garages will not be immune, so businesses need to consider how they can make best use of the new tools at their disposal.

As we reported in the July/August double-issue of Aftermarket, recent research has suggested that mechanics may be among those least at risk of losing their job to AI. The University of Pennsylvania, OpenResearch and OpenAI looked at how large language models (LLMs) including ChatGPT will affect existing roles in the labour market, and found that a number of automotive jobs were among the most AI-proof jobs. They specifically listed automotive glass installers and repairers, bus and truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists, motorcycle mechanics and tyre repairers and changers.

In fact, higher-income white collar roles are most at risk. BT announced earlier this year that it expected 55,000 jobs to disappear by 2030, with 10,000 replaced by AI. Meanwhile, a YouGov survey from earlier in the year also indicated 62% of UK workers believe robotics and AI will erase more jobs than it creates. Indeed, the TUC has warned that protection for workers from AI is falling behind in the UK, with AI tools being used to both recruit staff and let them go.

Skillsets
According to David Steinberg, co-founder and CEO of AI cloud-powered marketing provider Zeta Global, many industries will see transformation as a result of AI: “Jobs will change. While the blue-collar workforce felt the biggest impact in the past, it will be white collar employees who will need to retool and shift skillsets to be successful in the golden age of AI.”

Good news for mechanics perhaps. According to David, it will be management and supply chain where the biggest impact will be felt: “The roles that will grow in value include those in creative areas and those who bring in business and close business deals. Those currently in school or in the workforce will need to identify opportunities to learn and grow for tomorrow’s roles.”

Businesses that do use AI for some function may need to communicate this to their customers though: “Consumers need to be made aware that what they could be seeing or hearing may not in fact be real. They need to understand the potential repercussions to the job market and shifts in other aspects of daily life. This degree of understanding is critical to creating an empowered population that can welcome the new technology, instead of being scared of it.”

If that is the likely effect that would be seen across many industries, what is the likely result of businesses in the automotive aftermarket? There will be some business owners who assume that as long as they let the regular customers know that Karen who answers the phone in reception is in fact a digital phantom, they can feel complacent and just jog on with their routine. Unfortunately, the potential impact across a business, from parts ordering to diagnostics, right through to marketing and beyond could be enormous. Yes. it could even affect your front-of-house.

Wealth of insight
What could the effect be on the industry as AI spreads out through the various functions of the sector?
Hayley Pells, Policy Manager at the IMI, observed: “The advancement of new technologies has brought numerous benefits to the automotive sector, benefiting both motorists and industry professionals. While the impact of AI on the workforce is still unfolding, as highlighted by recent reports it has the potential to revolutionise many aspects of the automotive industry. It can drive advancements in everything from autonomous vehicles to personalised driving experiences. It can also deliver critical benefits for both the environment and the economy through the development of predictive maintenance and servicing schedules.

“By leveraging AI-powered analytics and real-time data processing, automotive service providers can gather and analyse vast amounts of information about vehicles, including their usage patterns, driving conditions, and performance data. This wealth of insight allows for a more precise understanding of each vehicle’s maintenance requirements, enabling the creation of personalised servicing schedules.”

She continued: “Rather than relying on generic maintenance intervals, AI can take into account the unique characteristics of each vehicle and its usage patterns; An approach that ensures servicing is optimised for the individual motorist. Plus, the advantages of AI in identifying potential issues or maintenance needs before they develop into major problems could be considerable. By continuously monitoring and analysing vehicle data, AI systems can detect early warning signs and provide timely alerts to both motorists and service providers. This proactive approach will not only prevent breakdowns and minimise unplanned downtime; It will also enhance overall vehicle reliability and, as a consequence, deliver significant environmental an economic benefits.”
Businesses will not be able to dive in blind on this front though noted Hayley: “Of course, such adoption of AI technologies must be matched by a commitment to training. As AI becomes more prevalent, it is vital to ensure the workforce remains equipped with the necessary skills with continuous professional development to adapt and work alongside the new innovations effectively. The significance of maintaining a strong focus on safety and security as the automotive sector adopts AI technologies is, therefore, central to the IMI’s mission. IMI TechSafe will address these concerns through guidance and best practice on the safe integration and use of AI across all areas of automotive. “

She concluded: “AI has the potential to transform the automotive industry – and the road using public. However, for the transformative power of AI to be fully realised, the importance of ongoing training and safety considerations cannot be underestimated. It must be fully recognised with clear and focused investment by government and employers.”

Evolving landscape
AI-derived tools will not be creating themselves, just yet. How is the expansion of AI affecting companies that offer digital tools in the sector?

According to Leo Freebairn, National Sales Manager at TechMan, the company is investing in AI to optimise garage management efficiency: “In a world of advancing technology, the question of whether AI will replace humans in various professions often arises. However, a recent study has indicated that vehicle technicians are among the professions least likely to be replaced by AI. While this news may initially be viewed as positive, it prompts us to examine the potential impact of digitisation in the automotive industry and the importance of training in this evolving landscape. As a forward-thinking garage management software company, TechMan recognises the significance of AI and is actively investing in its implementation to aid garages in their daily operations.”

The impact of digitisation was being delayed according to Leo, but with the rise of AI it will certainly be felt now: “As vehicles become increasingly digitised, the role of technicians may undergo significant transformations. While AI may not replace technicians entirely, its impact could be delayed as vehicles continue to evolve. Advanced diagnostics, augmented reality guidance, and predictive maintenance are examples of areas where AI can enhance a technician’s abilities. As a result, the need for comprehensive training becomes more crucial than ever. TechMan understands this and strives to provide garages with the tools and knowledge necessary to adapt to these changing dynamics.”

Substantial role
On what role AI can play in garage businesses, Leo observed: “TechMan’s dedication to implementing AI reflects our commitment to empowering garages with innovative tools that amplify human potential and drive success in the digital age.

“Beyond the technician’s workbench, AI can play a substantial role in various aspects of garage management. For instance, AI-powered reception systems can streamline customer interactions, improve appointment scheduling, and enhance overall customer experience. By leveraging natural language processing and machine learning algorithms, AI can handle routine queries, freeing up staff to focus on more complex tasks that require human ingenuity.

“Similarly, AI can optimise parts ordering processes by analysing historical data, monitoring inventory levels, and predicting future demand. This enables garages to reduce costs associated with overstocking or stock shortages, ensuring timely availability of required parts. By integrating AI-powered systems into their operations, garages can improve efficiency, reduce errors, and enhance overall productivity. While AI undoubtedly offers valuable assistance in various areas of garage management, the nature of the work requires human ingenuity. Front-of-house interactions, such as building trust with customers, offering personalised advice, and understanding nuanced requirements, are best handled by human professionals. The ability to think critically, solve complex problems, and adapt to unique situations remains essential in the automotive industry.”

Opportunities and challenges
Commenting on TechMan’s commitment to AI implementation, Leo said: “As a garage management software company, TechMan recognises the potential of AI and the importance of harnessing its capabilities to empower garages. Through continuous research and development, TechMan is investing in AI solutions that enhance garage operations, improve efficiency, and provide technicians with valuable tools. By integrating AI into their software, TechMan aims to facilitate a seamless transition for garages into an increasingly digitised future.”
Leo added: “The rise of AI in the automotive industry presents both opportunities and challenges. While vehicle technicians may not be replaced entirely by AI, the impact of digitisation cannot be overlooked. Training becomes more critical than ever as the industry evolves. AI can undoubtedly play a significant role in enhancing garage management, from reception systems to parts ordering processes. However, human ingenuity remains indispensable in delivering personalised service and addressing complex challenges.”