The Rise and Rise of Vehicle Telematics and its Impact on an Unprepared Global Independent Aftermarket
Vehicle intelligence is such that, via on board global positioning systems (GPS), some high specification cars can now contact a repair centre in the event of a breakdown. This system, known as ‘bCall’ is becoming more and more popular as the operating platforms required become ever more advanced. As one might imagine, this is a technology high on the radar of vehicle recovery companies and associations.
The next phase in the development of this technology will see a vehicle not only able to self-diagnose a problem, but also to locate its nearest repair centre, ascertain whether it has the necessary diagnostic equipment to allow the repair to take place and even book an appointment to have the work carried out. And as this technology is the domain of the VMs, unless the IAM acts fast to offer a viable alternative, it is certain that the vehicle will be directed to that particular VMs own nearest dealership – which of course is guaranteed to have the correct and necessary diagnostic equipment to repair the fault as they developed it in the first place. Job done.
Put simply, the very real threat to the IAM is that currently, this technology exists only within the realms of the VMs, and is highly prized and highly guarded by them. Under the auspices of the Block Exemption regulations, they will eventually have to make this technical information available to the IAM; but as this is their niche and as they sensibly won’t want to make things too easy for the competition, under what timescales and at what cost?
“The fundamental philosophy of the IAM is to offer consumers a choice,” explained Robert Lightfoot, director Marketing, Purchasing & Technical, TRW Automotive Aftermarket. A vehicle can break down anywhere. At any given time, on any given road in Europe, it is likely that a vehicle’s position will be equidistant between a main dealer and an independent garage.
“If the IAM doesn’t work fast to develop a competitive and cognitive platform network, the vehicle will of course call the nearest main dealer – regardless of whether the driver wants this or not. And until he gets his repair bill, in that moment he is likely to be concerned only with the fact that the problem has been dealt with.”
But what is perhaps even more frightening for the IAM, is the fact that by having access to all data about the vehicle – including service and repair history – it won’t be long before these systems have the capability to actually anticipate potential failures and predict forthcoming part changes. In terms of stock control and customer ordering, this has monumental potential.
“Stop and think – and now imagine the potential for such systems. The capacity for development is extensive as they can easily be interfaced with all kinds of data. Demand for retrofitting such innovations into the existing car parc will concurrently generate immense opportunities in the telematics aftermarket sector. But only if the aftermarket prepares,” said Robert.
According to Business Monitor International (BMI), the global telematics industry was valued at nearly $5 billion in 2010, with over 75 percent occupied by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). By the end of 2012, OEMs and aftermarket suppliers are expected to create a global market of $9.3 billion. That is a market that has almost doubled in two years.
“Being part of a network was until recently adequate to service the needs of the IAM’s customers,” Robert continued. “Now, in light of the stratospheric advancements in telematics, those networks need to be connected. Indeed, for the IAM to remain a viable channel we need to develop an integrated platform, linking product, vehicle and workshop data for the IAM that allows for systems technology such as bCall – otherwise the business generated from these systems will go directly to the VM dealership networks.
To properly understand the potential and growth of this market, it’s helpful to understand the origins of the technology and plot its development. Evolutionary technology – origins lie with ‘eCall’ – communication between vehicles and emergency services The first generation of this type of technology is known as (emergency) eCall and originated in Europe. The system calls the emergency services in the event of an accident. Linked to the vehicle’s navigation system, the system is able to report the vehicle’s position using the on-board global positioning system (GPS). This is currently only offered at Original Equipment (OE) level by certain leading vehicle manufacturers (VMs) on high end vehicles.
The European Commission (EC) recommends this system be compulsory on new vehicles sold from 2015; estimating that if fitted as standard, it could save in the region of 2,500 lives and reduce serious injuries by 15 per cent annually. In this context, TRW welcomes a report on eCall published by the European Parliament in June 2012 . The report examines all aspects of this system, its users and its potential mass use. It also covers the important issue of fair competition.
Point 39 of the report considers that: “In order to ensure open choice for customers, the eCall in-vehicle system should be accessible free of charge and without discrimination to all stakeholders such as providers of car aftermarket products and services, equipment suppliers, repair shops and independent service providers, roadside assistance and related services; calls on the Commission to ensure that the eCall system is based on an interoperable and open-access platform for possible future in-vehicle applications or services, in order to encourage innovation and boost the competitiveness of the European information technology industry on the global markets; stresses that any such applications and services shall remain optional.”
It is hoped that any forthcoming legislation relating to b-call be afforded similar fair competition status. But of course, fair or not, if the aftermarket cannot deliver the integrated platforms necessary to support such technology, they will inevitably lose out.
Vehicle to vehicle communication
There have been major advances in the field of electronics. Forward thinking companies have applied these technological advances to safety systems and work hard to make these systems accessible to everyone. Alongside this, there are now highly sophisticated systems that allow communication between vehicles, such as collision detection systems. With camera systems, radars and locating systems a vehicle can detect the presence of another before the driver is aware of it and issue a warning signal or initiate automatic emergency braking. The field of safety via connectivity has much potential; TRW alone has more than ten projects in development which will be unveiled over the next decade.
“The IAM must harmonise its thinking. Independence, often touted as the dominant value, must be tempered with compromise. Without strategic decisions and a shared objective to benefit from these evolutions and without continued access to the repair market, the independent garages’ days are numbered. This is a battle that only independent repairers can lead. As equipment suppliers we can offer support with tools, but beyond this, it is up to the main parties to define a strategy and adapt their organisation to the new developments in the market,” Robert concluded.