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Assessing Telematics Technology

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While telematics technology includes many consumer-focused products like navigation systems, when it comes to the auto repair industry, the technology’s largest power lies in the information it can obtain from vehicles.

According to Scott Luckett, chief information officer for the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA), the ability to perform remote diagnostics could completely change the face of the repair industry. However, Luckett says that although the potential is overwhelming, there are several challenges the independent aftermarket needs to overcome to properly capitalize on the technology.

Luckett recently spoke with Ratchet+Wrench about diagnostics technology and the potential impact it could have on the industry.  


What is the value of telematics data from an aftermarket standpoint?

Vehicle telematics is and has been on our radar for a number of years as a game-changing technological trend. Consumers and even people in our industry hear the word “telematics” and it means something different to everyone, from having the vehicle dial phone calls for you to navigation systems to streaming music. But the part of telematics that we are most interested in and working on is remote diagnostics and maintenance reminders. The ability to monitor the health of the vehicle as it goes down the road or sits in your driveway is the game-changing part.

Today, we are an industry that relies on the vehicle owner to be proactive and take their vehicle into an independent service provider when the check-engine light goes on or when a service interval comes up. Because it’s voluntary and relies on the consumer’s initiative, we’ve talked about underperformed maintenance for years. Consumers aren’t as proactive as they should be and they don’t get the vehicle maintained as frequently as they should. That stands to change with telematics because now the car companies are building into their product the ability to monitor it.


What technology is available for independent shop owners?

It’s still the OBD-II port device, because the wireless gateway technology is still evolving and being defined. We here at AAIA have operated a telematics challenge competition for products created by the aftermarket. We’re trying to identify the most innovative solutions that serve the interests of the independent aftermarket and shop owners. In the last two years, we’ve identified Delphi and Verizon for their in-drive solution, both of which involve plugging a device into the OBD. When that device is activated and starts communicating with Delphi or Verizon, some very exciting service and capabilities become possible.

There are a number of viable solutions and costs are coming down. I think in this year you’re going to see a number of these aftermarket tools reach some commercial significance.

Sales will really start to take off. The technical building blocks have been around for several years, but in 2014, I think you’ll see people capitalize on this and bring it to the marketplace.

There are two types of telematics that will be affecting shops: those built into the vehicles by the OE for dealers and those created by the aftermarket. While the aftermarket tools are available right now and can be used in almost every vehicle on the road, the tools built by the OE aren’t there yet.


What are the challenges with current telematics technology?

Right now, the nationwide retail chains are in the best position to capitalize on the built-in diagnostics from the OEs and market it effectively. If you’re just an independent operator, it’s kind of hard to hold up your OBD-II plug-in device and properly explain and market the technology. Plus, who’s going to operate the network that you plug into? If you’re part of a national banner program, the national banner may offer it to its network.


What is the position of the independent repair shop versus the dealer?

The OE is, in effect, online with your vehicle with that built-in diagnostic capability. That gives them a decided advantage that when something goes wrong or as soon as the vehicle rolls over 30,000 miles, the consumer will get an indication to click this link to a convenient, easy-to-make appointment.

We in the independent aftermarket believe that it is your vehicle and your data and your right to choose where the data from your vehicle goes. We are all familiar with the Right to Repair battle that’s been waged for almost a dozen years, but Right to Repair is not the end game. Right to choose where the information from your vehicle goes and, therefore, where you go to have your vehicle serviced, is the next battleground. 


What is the AAIA doing to help protect the aftermarket and the consumer’s right to choose?

We at AAIA recognize the magnitude of this issue and helped form an Aftermarket Telematics Task Force in mid-2013. It’s an alliance of trade associations and major stakeholders in the industry all with an interest in remote diagnostics and communication with the vehicle. We’re joined by the Automotive Maintenance and Repair Association (AMRA) and the Automotive Industries Association of Canada, as well as a number of individual companies.

We want the independent aftermarket to speak on this subject and be represented with one voice. We believe the car companies need the independent aftermarket in order to preserve customer loyalty and a good customer service experience. The OEs can’t service all the cars they sell. They need a healthy, capable aftermarket industry.

The mission of the task force is threefold: first, to define our policy position, relative to telematics. Aftermarket service providers deserve an equal opportunity to perform remote diagnostics, as do the car companies.

Secondly, we have a marketing and communication aspect to what the task force is doing.

Third and most important, we must work together to arrive at a technical solution. We’ve got a number of the best and most talented companies in the area of diagnostic and service equipment, including all the scan tool makers, represented in this task force. 


What will this technical solution look like?

The technical solution will be something that involves major standard setting organizations. There’s this incredible collection of computer processors under the skin of the modern vehicle and the data network is quite extensive. There are standards already being developed for tomorrow’s vehicles that will allow them to communicate with other vehicles, roadside infrastructure and with the cloud. The technical solution that the task force is leaning toward piggy-backs on the work of the Intelligent Transportation System and allows the consumer to choose where certain information from their vehicle goes and allows certain data portals to communicate with the vehicle. 

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