The Battle Over Telematics Data

July 1, 2019

Connected-car technology will change how drivers interact with their vehicles and their service shops. It’s time for quick lubes to consider how they will join the fray.

If connected vehicle technology is the future of the auto industry, quick lube shops are poised to capitalize on the efficiencies it provides. Speed is already a key part of the business model, after all.

Telematics tech is melding vehicle diagnostics, location services and user preferences into a streamlined user experience. According to Derek Kaufman, an aftermarket consultant, quick lube shops can use their ubiquity and speed to attract individuals and fleet owners alike.

Uses for the new tech are unveiled rapidly, but substantial changes come more slowly. Experts say that operators are wise to research the topics now and plan to adapt. When changes to take hold, the way shops find customers could be very different.

With access to a telematics system, a shop could identify an incoming vehicle that needs an oil change. And the system would know that this particular shop provides the quickest way to get service and get back on the road.

“Now what we’re talking about is not just tracking an individual vehicle, but understanding where vehicles are, what their state of health is, what trouble codes are coming off them,” says Kaufman, a managing partner at Schwartz Advisors.

Vehicles can generate massive amounts of data—as much as 4,000 gigabytes in a day, according to an article in Roll Call. Mix that with improvements in mobile network speeds, and telematics is a rapidly changing tech sector.

This had led to clashes over how companies can capitalize on the technology. All that data is the currency of telematics, and, so, system access has serious business concerns for both automakers and aftermarket industries.

“There’s a whole infrastructure forming in mobility as a service to allow that to happen in the future,” Kaufman says. “Hundreds of companies are working on the details of that right now. It’s an exciting time for fast lube, because vehicle miles travelled are going to go up because of these services.”

On the Verge

Kaufman has done a lot of research on the topic. Starting in 2012, he produced a 52-part, multi-year series on telematics for the Auto Care Association (ACA) called “Telematics Trendline.” 

Back then, telematics was just emerging, and it wasn’t entirely clear how it could be used. In some ways, it was “technology for technology’s sake,” Kaufman says. It was most often marketed by third-party companies selling subscription-type diagnostic services.

That technology has changed a lot, even in the few short years since Kaufman finished his Trendline series. 

There are still lots of third-party services. Meineke launched Revvy, for example, which was a device that plugged into an OBD-II port and linked to the owner’s mobile device for use (the system was recently phased out). In April, Bridgestone acquired a telematics service run by TomTom, the popular GPS company.

But the larger change in telematics is how it’s becoming more common in vehicles right off the factory floor. Ford has promoted its data services for fleet owners as “Ford telematics for your Ford vehicles.” General Motors, which was an early adopter of connective technology, now has a more beefed-up version of OnStar for individual car owners and a fleet offering that is similar to Ford’s.

“More and more, OEs have seen that embedding this in the vehicle is the way to go,” Kaufman says. “The interesting thing moving forward is how telematics is used from a vehicle repair standpoint.”

Data Mine

Whether an individual owner or an automaker controls the data coming off a vehicle has big implications, and groups are fighting over that ownership.

“Now, the car company is the gatekeeper,” says Aaron Lowe, senior vice president for regulatory and government affairs for the Auto Care Association (ACA). “They get to decide what happens with all that data.”

The ACA advocates that the data should be open and available to the vehicle owners. Lowe says that, at the very least, owners should know what kind of data is collected.

The debates focus around how that information is used. If an automaker’s telematics system knows that a vehicle is going to need service soon, Lowe says it could use that information for targeted marketing that directs the driver to a preferred service center—more than likely, the dealer. 

“You can get an appointment at the nearest authorized dealer,” Lowe says. “They know that in so many miles, your timing belt is going to go.”

It could give a big leg-up to a certain group of shops that have access to the data. Proponents of data access worry that, for example, “Ford Telematics for your Ford vehicles” could also mean that only Ford dealers work on them.

That ties telematics into the “Right to Repair” movement, which disputes manufacturers’ proprietary data ownership. The idea is to make sure independent shops have access to all the same information as manufacturers, and that the shops don’t lose out simply from lack of access.

Massachusetts passed a Right to Repair bill in 2012, granting anyone access to all the on-board performance information that the manufacturer provides. But it specifically exempted wireless telematics, and the state’s lawmakers have moved this year to add that class of data to the bill.

Groups that oppose such bills point to security and privacy concerns that could arise from opening up data access. They argue that keeping their data siloed in their systems allows for greater defense against unwanted intrusions.

“One of the most significant auto cybersecurity vulnerabilities results from unfettered access to vehicle computer systems,” says Damon Shelby Porter, representing the Association of Global Automakers in 2016.

As vehicles become more connected to a network, the software that controls vehicle functions could be vulnerable to manipulation. That creates serious safety concerns.

Porter, who is now vice president of government affairs for Association of Global Automakers, gave that statement before a California state Senate committee hearing on telematics. The state’s ongoing debate over data privacy debate could shape access to vehicle information.

The carmaker organization, which represents companies like Subaru, Suzuki and Toyota, has spoken out against data access bills in other states. A 2016 bill introduced to the Rhode Island General Assembly would have compelled automakers to make wireless data accessible.

Lowe with the ACA spoke in favor of that bill.

The Association of Global Automakers opposed the Rhode Island bill with a similar argument as in California. The organization’s prepared remarks says that data sharing would hinder the ability of manufacturers to secure the system. The group says that current access to OBD information makes the need to access more wireless data “superfluous.”

The organization didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Gone Digital

To Lowe, this battle has played out already.

Government oversight of emissions data, particularly in California, led to the OBD-II system that all shops use today.

“The car companies originally wanted to make proprietary access,” Lowe says. “And we fought legislatively in the 1980s for a standardized access to that system.”

The ACA suggests another standardized system for wireless telematics data, which they call “secure vehicle interface” (SVI). It would be the platform upon which data would be accessed by all, and it would promote compatibility. Ideally, the SVI system would place a high priority on security to alleviate those breach concerns.

The ACA cited information claiming that, by 2022, 87 percent of all new cars will be equipped with OEM telematics. Kaufman says that for the consumer, some level of data analysis will be a normal part of vehicle ownership by the 2025 model year.

He says that it’s beneficial for quick lube shops to understand this change to stay ahead on their car counts, because efficiency and volume might become more important as miles increase between oil changes.

“Cars are designed better,” Kaufman says. “They’re higher quality. They have synthetic oils that have extended oil change life so that the number of touches per car per year is down.”

He added that his research points to a different landscape of car ownership in the future as well. He says that the volume of individually owned cars might wane a bit in exchange for things like low-speed, local autonomous vehicle services.

That could lead quick lube owners to focus more on serving fleets rather than individuals.

“The future is likely to be heavier on the business to business side,” he says.

And those fleets will rely on telematics data.

About the Author

Matt Hudson | Content Director

Matt Hudson is the former content director for National Oil and Lube News.

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