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How add-on telematics will affect the aftermarket

Saturday, July 1, 2017 - 06:00
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Telematics seems to have become a buzz word the last several years in the automotive aftermarket. Telematics really aren’t new to the automotive world, but the technology has progressed to the point where aftermarket options have become available. As with any technology, there are both positive and potentially negative ramifications. So let’s take a deeper look at telematics, the options available today and the potential future for telematics systems.

What is telematics?

The definition of telematics listed in Wikipedia is pretty long and involved. It states, “Telematics is an interdisciplinary field that encompasses telecommunications, vehicular technologies, road transportation, road safety, electrical engineering (sensors, instrumentation, wireless communications, etc.), and computer science (multimedia, internet, etc.).” For this article, I’ll focus on the telematics system’s ability to access the vehicle’s onboard diagnostic data and relay that information. It’s important to note that all systems are not created equal in their ability to relay data. Don’t mistakenly assume that remote diagnostic systems can necessarily access all of the information you could get if connected directly to the vehicle with a diagnostic tool either, as this can be far from the truth.

Factory systems is one way the OEM is trying to keep the consumer in the fold.

As I mentioned, telematics systems are not new to the automotive industry. In fact, General Motors introduced the first version of OnStar on some model year 1997 Cadillac vehicles and Mercedes-Benz introduced their first telematics system in model year 2000 as Tele Aid (later called mbrace, and now mbrace2).  Those early systems were a far cry from what we see on vehicles today. Their features were primarily focused on safety, possibly some remote guidance, and some limited communications. Fast forward to 2017, and oh how things have changed. OEM systems are now providing communications that could only be dreamed of in the past. The safety and guidance functions have been expanded and communication functions have virtually exploded. Systems are now able to provide automated diagnostic reports, maintenance reminders, in-vehicle internet hot spots, and on and on and on. In fact, remote updating of the onboard control modules (known as over-the-air updates) is even starting to get close to becoming a reality.

The main question that comes to my mind with these systems is: How can they be leveraged by aftermarket shops to better service their customers? The reality is the systems likely have all been setup with defaults to try to drive customers to the dealerships for service. Typically when a customer has an active subscription, any trouble code notifications that are sent to the customer will also be sent to the dealer closest to the customer’s address on record with the telematics provider. Of course the customer likely has the right to deny that automated dealer notification, but if that’s even an option in the contract it’s unlikely the customer knows. Does that mean you need to offer the customer an aftermarket option on top of their existing OEM system to be able to have that same access? Fortunately, the answer is likely almost always going to be no. If you choose to start pursuing these vehicles, there are a few options I’d recommend considering. Keep in mind, even though your customers may be bringing in older vehicles for service, it doesn’t mean they don’t also have newer vehicles at home that may be equipped with telematics. In other words, if you are going to go after this market, you should advertise it to all of your customers.

Don’t know how to get to where you’re going? No problem…

The first and simplest option is to just offer your assistance in interpreting the information that is already being sent to them. Make the customers aware that you are willing and able to review any notifications they may receive from the OEM. To make it convenient for the customer, provide them with an email address they can forward the reports and/or notifications to. Of course you need to be prepared to actually follow up on any items sent, which could get time consuming, so be sure you are prepared for the volume you may receive.

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