The Connected Car

The independent aftermarket risks being cut out of the loop by the connected car, but there could be ways for garages take back control...

By Neil Pattermore |

Published:  25 March, 2020

When I was at school, no one liked the playground bully – you remember the kind of person who liked to push the other kids around, always wanted to take from you what you had and liked nothing better than ‘rubbing your face in the dirt’, just because they could.        
There is a modern equivalent in the automotive world – the ‘connected car’. To be fair it is not the car that is the problem, but the vehicle manufacturer that designed and built it. I would like to explain exactly what the problem is and how it will be the equivalent of the playground bully in relation to your business.
In simple terms, the way that communication to a vehicle and its data is being supported is changing. Today, the OBD connector still exists and provides direct, free of charge access to in-vehicle data when the vehicle is in the workshop when you connect your multi-brand diagnostic tool to start the repair process. There are even plug-in devices (often known as dongles) that are connected to the OBD port to allow data to be monitored when the vehicle is being driven, but mainly for fleet operators. Perhaps, so far, so good.
Now the change of paradigm. The design of the car today (well actually yesterday – its already happened) has changed. It is now designed to allow remote access via a telematics interface and with the in-vehicle computational resources to host and run on-board applications for vehicle related services.  This is the ‘connected car’.
Who can directly connect to this ‘connected car’ and access all the data, process it in the car and offer services to the driver? Only the vehicle manufacturer, and there lies the problem.

This evolution in vehicle technology is driving (excuse the pun) a wholesale change in the way that the repair process will now be conducted. For the first time, the vehicle manufacturer is able to be in direct contact with the vehicle driver/owner and has consequently been able to enter the aftermarket. This is important, as this has been the most lucrative sector that the vehicle manufacturer has never previously been able to enter, or when they have tried to do so via its main dealer network, has resulted in only limited success.
Think about your business model for a moment. You have customers who call you, or visit your reception, to ask if you can help service or repair their vehicle. You ask a few questions to ascertain what the problem might be, or conduct a diagnostic check to see what faults may be present, and then provide the customer with a quotation to get their vehicle back on the road.
Now look at this from the vehicle manufacturer’s perspective. They can check the vehicle every time it is being driven and run monitoring, diagnostic or predictive checks to see what repair or maintenance is required. They already know the details of the vehicle and what service or repair methods are needed and the corresponding spare parts. When the time comes for work to be done, they can calculate what this would be in terms of time and parts and send a quotation to the vehicle owner using the in-vehicle display (HMI functions). Examples of this type of service offer already exist today and ask the driver what level of service they would like, when they would like it and where this work could be provided. This might be a main dealer close to their home or close to their work. A simple press of the on-screen icon, or even a voice command confirms their choice and the acceptance of the quotation. I bet that you would like to be in a position to be able to do the same, or even simply to offer your competing quotation. Well hard luck, you can’t.
The vehicle manufacturer blocks all direct access to the vehicle and the driver for independent service providers. Currently, the best offer from vehicle manufacturers is to use a ‘back-end’ interface from the vehicle manufacturer’s server where data (well actually information – there is a big difference) is made available at a price. You might simply get the vehicle mileage, or a DTC, or the next service date – happy days! However, the best bit, is that to get even this information, you have to register with the vehicle manufacturer, declare your service that you would like to provide to your specific customer, and then use the remote services contract that must first exist between your customer and the vehicle manufacturer to transfer the data/information via the VM server to you, before you can provide any form of service offer to your customer. Does not sound too appealing, does it?
So welcome to the world of the connected car - and the best bit is that you will not know the customers you have lost, as you will not know what service, maintenance or repair work they needed, because the vehicle manufacturer will have known what was needed even before the vehicle owner did and then proposed their service offer directly to them without you even knowing.

Perhaps there is some good news on the horizon as vehicle ownership changes towards ‘mobility as a service’ and people do not buy cars, but simply buy transport. The vehicle owner becomes a corporation who runs a large fleet of vehicles and needs them serviced locally to where they are being used, but to ensure that they can offer competitive mobility services, they will need the lowest cost for labour and parts – and with their bargaining power for individual independent workshops, it could be a race to the bottom to offer the lowest price. The answer lies in working as part of a team with your suppliers (e.g. diagnostic tool or parts suppliers) who can negotiate better corporate deals and help streamline your business to meet these new challenges. The days of simply talking to your customer and giving them a price before telling them that their vehicle will be ready at five o’clock are rapidly disappearing, to be replaced by working in a wider eco-system of remote access to the customer and their vehicle and competing not with the workshop around the corner, but with corporations, both as partnership suppliers or as competitors.
Tomorrow’s business model will not be just more of the same as what you were able to do yesterday. Welcome to the world of the connected car and the new playground bully, where you will need to gang-up to defend yourself.

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