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Give techs tools, knowledge to keep semi-autonomous cars and trucks safe

Monday, July 30, 2018 - 07:00
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In 2016, nearly 37,500 people died in automobile related accidents. Adaptive vehicle technologies promise tremendous lifesaving potential, argues the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. These innovations are transforming how repairers are treating autos that are directly impacting the aftermarket says the president of a collision repair trade association. Despite these two group’s efforts to prioritize Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS), practical concerns regarding awareness, repairability, and accessibility demand critical review.

Integrated features like parking assist, automated braking, lane changing should total $59 billion in global market value by 2021. The five-year compound growth rate is trending 20 percent. Hardware devices including cameras and lasers that stream data into sensors will be software wired into 95 percent of 2017 and newer vehicles. Given enormous coverage into the crashworthiness of ADAS, why is the level of awareness so low?

The Wall Street Journal reported that neither new vehicle shoppers nor dealership sales people are pouncing on safety upgrades. Price or time often factor in why they are slow to embrace ADAS. On a recent visit to a NH Volkswagen dealership, one service advisor requesting anonymity said that their sales team are sheepish about pressuring their customers to buy safety gear. The VW training modules are skimping on rich content to help seal the deal. Some auto makers like Honda, Subaru and Toyota, however, are giving their buyers no choice wrote the WSJ. These manufacturers are proactively embedding forward collision, blind spot and land departure detectors into their mass-market models.

Awareness about emerging vehicle technologies in the after sales space is equally worrisome. The hard truth is that those on-board devices face obsolescence once the owner drives off the dealership lot. During the life of the vehicle, something will require fixing. There’s no guarantee that the workmanship will restore the device to the manufacturer’s specifications. At a trade show last year, a reporter for Aftermarket Business World revealed supplier and technician ambivalence about ADAS heading mainstream. Rightfully so, the reporter found it interesting that those businesses and installers were not discussing what the implications of ADAS will mean to them for the short-term. 

Thankfully though, one trade group felt an urgency. Dedicated to competent repair work, the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair (I-CAR) recognizes that the wrench turners must be adept with working with the on-board computer systems. When an ADAS unit has been impacted, a technician must follow a damage analysis to pinpoint where the problem lies. Last year, I-Car introduced an array of educational courses to 11,000 U.S. auto body shops as part of this organization’s goal to keep these techs apace of growing safety features. But aptitude has its limits.

Take gaps in standardized equipment. The same Volkswagen employee noted that their ADAS service equipment is incompatible with other models made by General Motors or Nissan. It only works with Audi and VW cars. He also doubted the soundness of aftermarket parts. The receptor tips may vary from the original specifications resulting in compromised electronic data transfer, thus making calibration more daunting.

I presented these repairability claims to Kaleb Silver, Senior Product Manager for Hunter Engineering, www.hunter.coma leading ADAS equipment supplier. Installers of all stripes are challenged by each auto maker’s unique configuration designs, contended Silver. Education in the “how to” reset process from brand to brand must improve. While a dealership or an independent installer may have the advantage of owning the necessary equipment, not all calibrations are equal. What’s missing in the pre-scan and post-scan analysis process is a common reset procedure. Sometimes the software won’t read every model. To be able to duplicate an OE solution across the spectrum, repair businesses must invest in more tools and obtain additional procedure information to service their customers.

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