The Future Fight for Vehicle Data

Thursday, August 1, 2019 | August 2019

The Future Fight for Vehicle Data | Telematics is Sweeping Modern Vehicles, But what is it? | Jeff Bly

Today’s vehicles are nearly sentient. They drive and park themselves. They talk to us (and we to them), effortlessly switching drive modes when needed. ADAS and microchip-controlled technology means your drivetrain makes thousands of decisions every second its wheels are turning, scanning the road and conditions around you. And for the first time since the Model T rolled off the assembly line, purchasing a vehicle gives the manufacturers something more valuable than the price of the vehicle itself—data.

Who’s buying? Who’s driving? Where is the vehicle located? What are its most common routes? Who owns this data, and how will it be used?

There’s a word for this dilemma—telematics. Most commonly utilized via a dongle hookup that connects directly to the car’s computer, telematics offers an opportunity for shops to connect with their customers, verify and detect trouble codes, and make a more accurate—and often immediate—decision about the nature of the repair, informing recommendations about current and future maintenance and follow-ups.

The curious aspect of it all, though, is this: According to J.D. Power’s U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study, in-car technology and telematics has become more prevalent every year since 2007. Consumer brand loyalty and overall satisfaction, however, is actually decreasing, drawing drivers away from dealerships due to the inability to reasonably operate their car in times of duress. For the 21st century independent repair shop, that’s an opportunity to build a relationship with new customers and bolster the time (and trust) you share with current customers.

Tech start-ups and juggernauts alike have recognized this opportunity as well; companies such as Geotab, Vinli and Verizon are all developing tablets, software and hardware to read, capture, share and analyze telematics data.

Down the Telematics Rabbit Hole

“Not even the best shops out there are talking about telematics,” says Jeff Bly, a veteran Autotech Training Developer with NAPA. “Most shop owners should be aware of it, however.”

Bly spends his days developing curriculum for automotive service professionals and NAPA AutoCare shops in an effort to always stay ahead of the constantly shifting automotive repair industry. Bly is also a MWACA volunteer and VISION committee member and enthusiast.

Bly defines telematics as the wireless collection of data to be used by the OEMs to improve quality, track vehicle faults, and promote vehicle maintenance and safety. Bly believes this data should be shared with the aftermarket.

OnStar, for example, was one of the first, debuting in the mid ’90s as an in-car safety feature. Today, OnStar still sells emergency services on a subscription basis. What that service does, however, is allow the OEMs to collect data on that car to use for simulation, testing and diagnostics. Other examples of modern telematics includes collision avoidance systems, ADAS and real-time diagnostics.

“There’s a huge disconnect and a little bit of complacency with the common shop owner,” Bly says.

“The main focus is the bottom line and they’re probably not as in tune as they should be with technology, especially upcoming technology. They’re focused on payroll and bills— most are not hiring the right people to handle that for them. If they did, they could be searching for new business and making sure their staff is staying up to date with tools and training. Owners should work on the business, not in the business.”

Bly knows not every shop falls into this category (“MWACA member shops and the shops constantly involved in training are the most ready,” he says), but there’s room for improvement; he sees a failure to anticipate the needs of tomorrow’s drivers as an all-too-common theme running throughout the industry—not just in a select handful of shops.

“It’s a perfect storm,” he says. “Shop owners and technicians are drowning in technology, yet many aren’t efficient in basic technical tasks. We spend a lot of time as trainers teaching them what they should already know, such as running lab scope tests and how to be more efficient with scan tools. Many ask, ‘Which scan tool should I own?’ My answer: “Quite frankly, all of them.”

Bly cites specialization as a conversation that needs to be had. Many vehicles are getting more difficult to repair, especially considering some OEM scan tool subscription costs. Some shops have found the answer by limiting their scope to increase their focus on what’s viable and profitable for their market areas. Several very successful “diesel only” shops have opened recently, for instance.

“Sometimes I think one of the biggest reasons why Fiat/Chrysler is pricing themselves out of the repair aftermarket is because they’re trying to make their money back a little too quickly after purchasing Chrysler. I think they’re being shortsighted.”

Bly knows many manufacturers will insist all vehicle telematics data is theirs, increasing their authority over the scope and cost of vehicle maintenance and repair.

“But here’s where the problem may fix itself,” he says. “If it’s going to be crazy expensive to repair a vehicle in the aftermarket because of skyrocketing OEM software and programming costs, shop owners may not want to expose themselves to the headache and increasing prices of making repairs specific to that vehicle.” 

Asking the Wrong Questions

But Bly isn’t worried too much about the common shop owner—if it’s too hard and expensive to repair a vehicle, customers will simply stop buying that vehicle. Prohibitively expensive cars are not a part of a viable future for millennials and tomorrow’s car-buying generations.

At this point, Bly isn’t even certain the data is terribly important anyway—most cars being repaired are over 10 years old, and though they may have had some early telematics capabilities (such as OnStar), most drivers don’t renew promotional or new-buy subscriptions.

“The manufacturers may not even know what to do with the data yet,” he says.

“GM is getting sued over the poor shifting quality of its 8-speed transmission, and they’re collecting data about how to make it better. It’s overwhelming, though—how will they use it? If they had the answers from simply collecting data, it would be fixed by now.

“Will the OEMs use it for autonomous driving? And if they do, how long will that take to be useful?”

Bly describes a common situation that most autonomous vehicles don’t know how to handle—traffic cones. Common construction and detour implements such as cones, mobile barriers and roadside signs wreak havoc on autonomous technology.

“What will the self-driving car do? Will it be confused by traffic cones? If so, now your car has stopped and won’t move because of a basic construction zone,” he says. “How do you program autonomous cars to handle a traffic circle/roundabout? Many drivers have no idea how to drive in a two-lane traffic circle anyway. So does that get programmed? Sounds like a crashfest.”

Bly believes the government and manufacturers need to take a much more active hand in educating the public about how and why automotive telematics data will be used, but he shakes his head at that prospect.

“They struggle to communicate the zipper merge when there’s a lane closure ahead!” he says. “We know the zipper merge is more efficient, but where is the education? The government has always been bad at training.”

Bly is adamant that OEMs won’t be stealing business anytime soon. Because independent shop owners are so much better at customer service than dealerships, it doesn’t matter how much data the OEMs collect.

“I think what they’re going to do with data is implement better ways of making cars; it won’t affect our bottom line,” he says. “We’re in a wait-and-see pattern. Does that data belong to the customer? I say yes. The smart OEMs know if they cut us out of the repair business, it hurts them in the long run because people won’t repair cars at dealerships—they’ll simply trade them in.”

A Brave New World

With those changes coming, Bly believes shops overly concerned about telematics need to switch their focus to digital vehicle inspection (DVI).

“Too few shops are using it,” he says. “Focus on DVI to move to the next level. You’re pushing toward extinction if you turn business away. With that in mind, implementing more efficient tactics to take care of customers and building new business is far more important than telematics.”

More than anything, Bly wants to keep telematics in the background and doesn’t believe the aftermarket has reached critical mass in how it tracks, stores and implements telematics data. What’s more, he knows that OEMs need shops more than shops need OEMs, and the crush of OEM-certified repair regulations may end up hurting many manufacturers in the long run.

“Look at all the money the aftermarket spent trying to fight Right to Repair, and now it’s the law of the land,” he muses. “But is it really hurting us? Not really. If you take the family on vacation in a Chevrolet and it breaks, do you want to force them into a dealership or allow the car to be repaired? GM seems to have figured that out—build a car that’s easier to fix.”

As for that Chevy’s roadside data, location data and real-time diagnostics data?

“The data is great and we want access, but will it help us fix cars? Hire someone to pay bills and answer the phones, track the numbers and work on the business,” Bly says. “Find your strengths and weaknesses; capitalize on your strengths and augment your weaknesses. Make sure your best technicians are happy.” 

The Telematics Task Force

To stay on the cutting edge of telematics, several industry organizations came together to form the Telematics Task Force. Comprised of the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA), the American Automobile Association (AAA), the Automotive Service Association (ASA), and the Equipment and Tool Institute (ETI), the Telematics Task Force is committed to keeping shop owners and consumers apprised of all manufacturer initiatives and legislative goings-on. Working with a wide variety of OEM and aftermarket businesses and organizations, the group’s aim is to guarantee open access to automotive telematics technology, vehicle connection and service info for consumers and aftermarket providers.

To get involved or learn more, check out

Fast Facts About Telematics

The Auto Care Association is committed to keeping shops and drivers educated about the most pressing issues and trends in the contemporary automotive market. Here are some fast facts about telematics from the organization’s website (

By 2022, nearly 90 percent of new vehicles in the U.S. will feature telematics technology.

Seventy-five percent of consumers have no idea what telematics is.

Almost the same number (71 percent) assume they have direct access to their vehicle’s data.

Almost 90 percent of consumers support vehicle owners having access to this data, and almost 80 percent believe owners should control who owns that data.