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Cell phones on wheels – the future of vehicle repair

Monday, June 3, 2013 - 06:14
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There’s no denying the rise of telematics in today’s vehicles. Too many interested parties have a stake in this growing segment for it to be ignored by automotive repairers (be they dealer techs or those working in independent service bays). If you’re unfamiliar with telematics, think insurance companies who want to monitor driving habits and set premiums based on risk. Think consumers, who want to protect their investments from theft and vehicle crashes. Think fleet operators, who want to use GPS systems to deliver products on time and with better fuel efficiency.

“Telematics will be a revolution,” says Pietro Berardi, CEO of Magneti Marelli, Global Aftermarket. “Vehicle connectivity for the future is a very big issue.” Exhibiting at this year’s Autopromotec show in Bologna, Italy, Magneti Marelli has developed a wide array of telematics products (for the OEMs as well as the aftermarket) to address the growing needs.

It wasn’t that long ago independent shops considered a similar innovation to be “way off in the future.” The Honda Insight first appeared in the U.S. in 1999, followed closely by the Toyota Prius. At the time, hybrid vehicle repairs were exclusive to dealerships, but as warranties expired and consumers sought less expensive repair options, technicians had to adapt. Today, hybrid training is vital.

Berardi believes training on telematics solutions will be just as important going forward. The aforementioned stakeholders have an overwhelming interest in operational efficiency and quality of life benefits associated with telematics, he says. The reduction in CO2 emissions, for instance, which result from in-vehicle GPS systems and improved logistics, is one of many valuable contributions for this growing field.

“Telematics and sustainability are two of the top drivers that will change the future of the car industry,” said Berardi.

Paola Carrea, head of telematics business development for Magneti Marelli, admits it’s tough to grasp how soon this emerging field will impact the aftermarket. But make no mistake, shops will have to explore new ways to service customers as a result of telematics.

“The car is becoming a smart phone with tires,” said Carrea. “We are in an era of connectivity. The car will be connected.”

Independent shops likely will have to reshape their business to accommodate this evolution. Think about how a consumer enters a cell phone retail outlet to resolve communication issues. Vehicle owners will likely expect the same service for troubleshooting automotive repairs.

Telematics opens up a whole new world revolving around customer relationship management (CRM) and vehicle relationship management (VRM) by enabling shops, insurers and other interested parties to access vehicle data, said Carrea. Data collection can help troubleshoot failures or provide proactive maintenance information to keep customers safe.

“You can be more useful for your customers,” she said. “You can demonstrate to your customer that you are very close to him/her – that you will take care of him/her. In our opinion, this would be an excellent manner to attract new customers to your shop.”

It’s important to note, she adds, that dealerships in the U.S. understand this evolution and the value telematics brings to CRM. Dealers know that once vehicles reach the end of the warranty period they typically lose customers to independents. Connecting with customers via telematics may just be a way for dealerships to stay in contact longer, thus taking repairs out of the bays of independent shops.

“This is a process (independent shops) have to start,” said Carrea. “Otherwise the risk is they close (their doors).”

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