AUTOMOTIVE MULTIMEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS

Detailed system and semiconductor demand analysis for in-vehicle infotainment, telematics and vehicle-device connectivity features.

March 9, 2013 21:58 rlanctot

I have frequently expressed skepticism regarding the mass market potential of usage-based insurance and nothing about my experience with State Farm's DriveSafeandSave program has changed that viewpoint.  At a gut level, consumers tend to resist surrendering their privacy to participate in such a program.  Of course, younger demographic segments, including those surveyed by Strategy Analytics, have shown a unique willingness to surrender that privacy in exchange for economic value – ie. an auto insurance discount.

There is no question that there are pockets of consumer interest in UBI insurance especially where auto insurance rates are either universally high due to prevailing market conditions or prohibitively expensive for particular drivers.  To the extent that competitive forces fail to suppress insurance rates, UBI programs can become the only route to finding a lower premium.

This brings me to the more fundamental obstacle to widespread acceptance of UBI insurance: trust.  One of the advantages of UBI insurance that is frequently touted by analysts is its ability to change the customer relationship by increasingly the frequency of customer interactions and enabling a higher degree of transparency around the determination of the customer’s insurance rate.

The problem is that few insurance companies are set up to take advantage of this new customer service paradigm.  The industry is built around infrequent customer contact in order to minimize the unpleasantness of policy renewal or the filing of a claim.  This fact was brought home to me recently when I explored a UBI offer from my own insurance company, State Farm.

State Farm has more than 20,000 independent agents selling insurance nationwide.  Normally this is considered a huge market advantage, which is reflected in the fact that State Farm is one of the largest, if not the largest, auto insurer in the U.S.

My agent sent me a letter offering a 5% discount if I were to sign up for the company’s DriveSafeandSave program.  DriveSafeandSave is approximately two years old, but as with most such programs it has taken time for State Farm to secure state-by-state regulatory approval for the program.

DriveSafeandSave was made possible in large part by a cooperation with Hughes Telematics which supplied its In-Drive module – an OBDII plug-in – to enable the program.  But DriveSafeandSave also allows drives of Sync-equipped Ford’s or OnStar-equipped GM vehicles to participate via those devices.

The beauty of taking advantage of the offer being made to me by State Farm is the fact that State Farm already knows my driving history and the driving history of my entire family, all of whom are insured by the company.  This means, State Farm can offer me the 5% discount immediately without any need to conduct any credit or driving history check requiring the onerous process of filling out forms and answering probing questions.

I know about the potential complexity of pursuing the second route – evaluating alternative carriers – because I did submit information for quotes but quickly realized that get a precisely equivalent offer I not only had to include my homeowner’s coverage but would also have to spend a lot more time digging into the details of the different offers – which, by the way, have been pouring in.

So I contacted State Farm to ask about the DriveSafeandSave program and, for the first time ever, spoke directly to my agent.  For as long as I can remember I have only interacted with one of his assistants.

Surprisingly, my agent pleaded ignorance of the DriveSafeandSave offer in spite of the fact that the letter I had received in the mail had his signature on it.  At this point my agent told me that I must be talking about the box that was sitting on his desk.  Evidently an In-Drive device had been sent to him to perhaps use on his own car.

I immediately explained to him how UBI insurance worked generally along with what I knew of the DriveSafeandSave program.  He was genuinely interested and promised to follow-up.

By now you may be beginning to understand what I am talking about regarding a new customer service paradigm.  Insurance companies are essentially getting into the consumer electronics business, with all of the customer service and support implications that that implies.

Consumers will need help installing the device, understanding how it works, understanding their privacy rights and understanding the scope of the insurance company’s right to use their personal information.  In that regard, I received a phone call a couple days later from my agent’s assistant who wanted me to sit through a reading of the program’s user agreement and privacy statement and agree to all of its terms.

Thankfully, the assistant agreed to email the document to me after I had agreed to all of its clauses (see below).  Based on my indicated wishes, I should have, by now, received at least three In-Drive devices to affix to my cars – but more than two weeks have passed and I am still waiting.

The issues at stake in this new customer relationship are, therefore, not limited to trust.  Another key issue is expectations.  I am expecting to see devices show up at my home to be installed on my cars by me, after which I will be able to access the driving information of all of the correlated vehicles online.

I am still waiting and the longer I wait the more my trust is being undermined and my expectations unmet.  I am also waiting to see a clear statement reflecting the 5% discount in my aggregate premium.

There is no doubt that UBI insurance has the potential to alter the course of the insurance industry providing a tool to enable more accurate underwriting.  But as long as carriers remain mired in old customer relationship patterns they are not likely to reap the full rewards of UBI offers and the program will remain a niche offering for desperate customers like me seeking to insure young drivers.

The good news for my agent is that he has by now received from me several reports and blogs written on this subject and so, better than most State Farm agents, he now knows what this new program represents – ie. a chance to reach out and snatch customers from competing carriers.  With any luck he has installed the In-Drive module on his own car so that he can better understand and explain the technology and the service to his new and old customers alike.

User Agreement:    

(From the email message: "You have requested to enroll in the Drive Safe & Save with In-Drive program.   I must get your consent to the following: ")                                    

- You have the full right and authority to provide consent on behalf of all   

Named Insureds on the policy and the owner(s) or lessee(s) of the vehicle.  

- You understand and agree that Drive Safe & Save will impact the premium for 

the vehicle and any renewal, transfer, reinstatement, amended, substitute or

replacement vehicle unless a new consent is required by State Farm or until 

participation in the program is discontinued.                               

- You understand that if you are currently receiving a premium reduction for  

low estimated annual mileage as reflected on your policy renewal notice or  

declarations page, your premium may increase at a future renewal if the     

calculated annual mileage no longer fits those criteria.                    

- You understand your Drive Safe & Save discount amount may be adjusted at    

each renewal based on the collected driving information.                    

- You are or intend to be a Hughes Telematics, Inc. (HTI) In-Drive subscriber 

by installing the In-Drive device into the enrolled vehicle. You understand 

that if you do not install the device within 30 days, you will not be       

eligible for Drive Safe & Save.                                             

- You authorize HTI to provide State Farm with mileage and other vehicle usage

information, such as how, when, and most common areas (approximately 40     

square miles) the vehicle is driven.                                        

- You understand that the device you receive from HTI as an In-Drive          

subscriber must remain installed in the participating vehicle for you to    

remain eligible for the program.                                            

- You understand that you may not be eligible for the program if you cause    

State Farm to receive inaccurate data for the participating vehicle.        

- You understand the insurance premium as it relates to annual mileage will 

be based on vehicle miles driven as reported by HTI instead of estimated    

annual mileage. Also, you understand that other vehicle usage information 

obtained from HTI can impact your premium.   

- You authorize HTI to verify the status of your In-Drive enrollment and to   

provide information from the vehicle to State Farm.                         

- You authorize State Farm to share your contact and other policy information 

with HTI to facilitate your participation in Drive Safe & Save.             

- You release HTI and State Farm from any liability associated with the       

disclosure of information gathered through Drive Safe & Save and In-Drive.  

- You understand that any Named Insured can discontinue participation in the  

State Farm Drive Safe & Save at any time by notifying your State Farm agent.

- You will inform your State Farm agent if you are no longer an HTI           

subscriber.                                                                 

- You will inform HTI and your State Farm agent if the vehicle is sold or     

transferred to a new owner or lessee. You will remove and return the In-Drive

device before the vehicle is transferred.                                   

Do you consent and wish to enroll in Drive Safe & Save?          Y       

Does the customer need a telematics device?      Y        (Y/N)       

 

 

.


March 3, 2013 13:35 rlanctot

When visiting Shanghai a couple months ago I was struck by the fact that multiple auto dealers visited during my stay did not have cars available with activated telematics systems.  This meant that the dealer was not able to demonstrate the technology to customers virtually guaranteeing consumer apathy.

This past week I was visiting car dealers in Italy and discovered a new barrier to consumer adoption, cars without power in the showroom.  Now I am the first person to acknowledge that consumers put a greater emphasis on style, drive and price than they do on infotainment and telematics (see attached slide), but cars without power in showrooms seems absurd in an age when the electronic and software content in cars is on a steep rise relative to the value of the vehicle.

These incidents were shocking to me because I experienced the telematics disconnect in multiple dealers in China (FAW Toyota, Nissan, BMW) and the power failure in multiple dealers in Italy (Fiat, Volkswagen, Hyundai).  The Chinese experience was exceptional because in the past I have had successful telematics demonstrations at Buick, Cadillac, Toyota, Lexus and Roewe dealers.

At the time of my visit to Shanghai, the dealer said that there was only one BMW in all of Shanghai that had telematics service provisioned for the purpose of providing a customer demonstration, but that vehicle was located on the opposite side of town.  The Nissan and FAW Toyota dealers simply had not activated any of their cars.  The only similar experience from my past was with Roewe’s Inkanet-equipped 350 which was most often lacking power on the dealer floor because the Android-based infotainment system had drained the battery.  (Roewe eventually installed Inkanet demonstration kiosks with their own power.)

The experience in Italy was surprising for the manner in which it was discovered.  The hatchbacks of many of the cars – which close electronically – were all ajar, not completely shut.  The natural instinct when one sees a door that is not fully closed is to give it an added shove or open and close it again.

Attempts to close these hatchbacks brought either a panicked or slightly amused response from the dealer sales person who had to explain that the hatch was powered and, when left on, tended to drain the battery in the showroom rendering the feature useless and the hatch not “closable.”  Usually the dealer had taken the added measure of wrapping paper or cardboard around the latch to prevent damage from customers trying to slam the hatches shut.

Is this problem emerging because cars are sitting too long in showrooms unsold?  Are dealers trying to avoid paying steep electric bills?  Not likely.

What is more likely is that dealers simply consider the electronics in the car to be a low priority, a fact that is borne out by Strategy Analytics research (http://bit.ly/XLOWpJ - Vehicle Purchase Behavior and Priorities of Chinese Consumers).  They have either reached this conclusion on their own in reaction to customer behavior or they are responding to a lack of auto supplier focus on selling sophisticated infotainment systems.  The danger, of course, is that dealers are following the lead of the factory.  If OEMs are not making a priority of infotainment systems then low attach rates and low customer satisfaction scores will result - ie. a self-fulfiling prophecy.

It may also be that dealers don’t want to engage in resolving consumer confusion regarding smartphone connections, voice recognition, navigation systems and apps.  Years ago Fiat was touting Blue&Me with point-of-purchase materials throughout much of Europe, but Blue&Me signs are no longer present in Fiat dealerships in Italy.

The picture is even more complex for Fiat, given the presence of Garmin, TomTom, and Magneti Marelli/Wind River navigation system options on its cars.  But Volkswagen has a growing range of infotainment options, as well, none of which could be demonstrated at the dealer visited in Italy.

The one exception encountered during this brief dealer tour was Hyundai.  Hyundai had a large sign touting the special edition of its i20 with a Pioneer infotainment system (the Aha Radio) enabling connection to a customer’s iPhone to access content and applications.  The dealer opened the hood to engage the battery to enable the demo, which amounted to a self-demo of the system which paired quickly and streamed audio via the supplied cable.

The sad reality is that solutions exist for both the telematics system provisioning problem in China and the power failure in Italy.  But the message is clear.  Selling infotainment and telematics systems introduces a new challenge to the process of selling cars – calling attention to power requirements, user interfaces, smartphone connections and apps.

Car makers from Ford and GM to BMW and Hyundai have introduce special dealer training programs and even Apple-like genius bars to bring customers – and dealers – along on the technological journey.  Clearly more guidance and support are needed if the industry is to achieve success with connected cars.  But making sure cars in showrooms are powered and that embedded telematics systems are provisioned seems like pretty basic stuff at this stage.

 


March 3, 2013 11:25 rlanctot

Tweddle set out more than five years ago to shift its printed manual business into the digital world.  That step has led the company to the development of vehicle relationship management solutions, a content and application delivery platform and, most recently, the ability to handle software over-the-air updates to cars.

Tweddle has learned quickly that vehicle connectivity is an all-in proposition.  Once connected to the car, either via an embedded modem or interfaced smartphone, the owner, dealer and car maker relationship to the vehicle is permanently altered.

Enabling a digital manual experience in the car – including static images and video of vehicle systems – not only needs to be VIN (vehicle identification number) specific, it also needs to be kept up to date.  It also means that the dealer and the OEM need access to that VIN-specific vehicle information.

This means that the VIN specific information must be accessible and updatable, which means it must be stored on an off-board server.  And it means that there must be a capacity for synchronizing on-board and off-board information.

But understanding these needs and realizing them in an implemented solution in a production vehicle are two very different things.  Achieving that objective has brought Tweddle into the fully connected vehicle world where the company is now processing streaming audio, delivering apps and software updates, and exchanging vehicle data.

Tweddle’s capabilities have somewhat outrun its client base as the company is prepared with solutions intended to stitch together the car, the customer, the dealer and the manufacturer, but the full circle experience has yet to be fully realized.  Closing the loop with drivers and dealers is essential for extracting the full value from vehicle connectivity which includes higher customer satisfaction scores, customer retention and additional vehicle sales.

The cornerstone of Tweddle’s value proposition – its intellectual property – is built around its foundational understanding of vehicle information enhanced with digital delivery and ubiquitous access.  Tweddle may have started years ago with manuals and dealer diagnostic systems, but the current solution has a wider scope.

Tweddle’s assets are currently embedded within many OEM engineering organizations in support of service and owner information development.  The company offers EDI integration with OEM manufacturing for access and analysis of vehicle build data and also enables management of OEM workflows in support of marketing, legal and engineering approval of content.

Nearly gone is the physical owner’s manual, to be replaced by on-board systems already in the market from Chrysler, GM, BMW, Tesla and others allowing consumers to access vehicle information directly on board or off-board from a call center.  Tweddle claims market leadership in developing, managing and delivering relevant information to owners via multiple media channels including print, Web, mobile and in the vehicle.

Much of Tweddle’s work is visible in Chrysler’s Uconnect and Toyota’s Entune connectivity systems.  But Tweddle is preparing for the next stage in its evolution by enhancing and deepening the connections between OEMs, dealers and customers.  By broadening access to vehicle information Tweddle is giving new life to owner's manuals even as it is rendering physical manuals unnecessary.


February 22, 2013 18:11 rlanctot

Best Buy is kicking its Commercial Division automotive aftermarket efforts into overdrive in 2013 with plans to more than double the number of major metro areas covered from 12 to 27.  For the past two years Best Buy has been working with AddOnAuto to build an auto dealer-focused program of vehicle upgrades around a cloud-based platform capable of matching any car with a nearly comprehensive catalog of compatible accessory gear including everything from mud flaps to navigation systems.

The program is unique for a variety of reasons including the fact that it encompasses most aftermarket stereo brands and integrates the installer capabilities of Best Buy’s own 3,000-strong Geek Squad.  Most notable is that the program only includes products that cannot be shopped in retail stores or online, which is one reason for Sony not being included since the company lacks a two-tier program.

The program is operated by Best Buy’s Commercial Division and targets fleet, insurance and car dealer markets.  But the insurance program, for replacing stolen or damaged equipment, is not yet up and running and the dealer program is by-far the largest business segment. 

Kicked off in Boise, ID, more than two years ago, Best Buy’s mobile electronics program for dealers provides a subscription-based, Web portal where dealers and their customers can browse for compatible aftermarket products and even see what a sample vehicle will look like following installation.  The subscription is $450/month.  The portal replaces physical catalogs or more generic online ordering systems that lacked the car-level detail and visualization tools.

The program is currently operating in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Atlanta, Miami and Minneapolis among other markets.  AddOnAuto is separately recruiting dealers with a less robust offering, but the company claims in its promotional materials that 9 out of 10 consumers buy accessories for their new cars; six out of 10 spend as much as $1,500 per car; but that auto dealers capture only 10% of this business, even though 75% of consumers tell AddOnAuto that they’d prefer to buy from their dealer.

Best Buy will also provide sales training, marketing support and sales tools along with free concierge pick-up and delivery, according to company literature.  The group was recruiting dealer participation at the recent National Automobile Dealer Association convention in Orlando with a discounted subscription offer of $149/month.  Aftermarket mobile electronics suppliers contacted by Strategy Analytics confirmed the success and high expectations for the program thus far.  Best Buy representatives declined to share program revenue information.


February 21, 2013 03:44 rlanctot

“Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.” – Margot Channing as played by Better Davis in “All about Eve”

It is the evening before my test drive of Tesla’s new Model S, the $100,000 sedan intended to change everyone’s thinking about what an electric vehicle can be or do.  But what the car can be or do is secondary to the impact the company is having on the automobile industry.

What is interesting is that Tesla’s impact has almost nothing to do with the car itself, but it is important to first understand how the car itself is influencing industry thinking about infotainment systems, safety and connectivity.

My test drive tomorrow in Washington, DC, follows an impromptu test drive last week in Silicon Valley.  I did not have the nerve to drive the car, which was privately owned, instead experiencing the naked, neck-snapping EV aggression from the comfort and safety of the passenger seat.

The Model S is a coiled spring capable of reaching 60mph in 4.4 seconds.  Along with that speed comes balance and poise with extra attention paid to steering and suspension. 

Of course, in the automotive infotainment industry the Model S has garnered attention for its 17” center stack display and embedded connectivity.  The display is impressive and the system’s access to streaming audio or Internet radio content sources via the embedded modem is the ultimate in convenience.  (Every competing system in the market accesses the driver’s mobile phone and data plan to deliver these services.)  The wireless access is free for the first three months and Tesla has yet to announce the pricing or pricing tiers thereafter.

More impressive than the convenient access to content, though, is the provision for over-the-air software updates – a capability that Tesla appears prepared to liberally leverage to its advantage.  In fact, the 17” display facilitates the process by detailing the latest software updates to the driver as they occur – usually overnight with the customer’s approval.  (Since first introducing the capability, Tesla has shifted to conducting initial download tests on the marketing fleet before deploying to consumers.)

The embedded modem also allows Tesla to monitor vehicle performance at all times, as was reflected in the recently disputed NYTimes review of Tesla's new East Coast fast-charging network intended to enable a gas-free, electrified journey from Washington, DC to Boston.  Setting aside the details, CEO Elon Musk's use of vehicle data to question the claims of the reviewer regarding his speed and use of HVAC was a revelation to some.  But, as a company representative clarified later to me, Tesla does NOT gather location information, only performance data.  And the customer opt in is purely binary - yes or no - and, with no location data, clearly does not encompass probe data for enhancing traffic information.

There are shortcomings to the Model S infotainment system which are readily apparent from a short drive.  The user interface – tends to default to a vehicle information screen.  Often featured prominently is a Google map which, while driving, may pixilate or disappear entirely based on the quality of the wireless connection.  This is a bit surprising given the fact that Audi has been out for two years already with AudiConnect consistently displaying Google Earth imagery over the Nokia Navteq map thanks to 2GB of cache memory.  Of course, Audi and Tesla currently share a lack of automatic crash notification capability.  (Tesla execs say they have yet to figure out a solution for replacing Google maps for the launch in China.)

What is missing in the homegrown head unit of the Model S, which is based on Linux, is a personalized experience that anticipates the driver’s needs and preferences and/or anticipates driving information needs such as traffic or weather data.  While multiple content aggregators have demonstrated interfaces fusing multiple inputs into a user interface capable of actively anticipating the contextual information needs and wants of the driver, Tesla appears to have put its entire emphasis on vehicle information management and map illustration.

Yet, even in its presentation of map information the Model S lacks 3D graphics or even Audi’s Google Earth.  Also missing is a more advanced safety portfolio leveraging sensors and cameras.  Company representatives say a more advanced safety offering is in the works and the center console display is ideally suited and prepared for such an integration.

But these “complaints” are quibbles, especially in the context of a car that can be transformed overnight by software updates.  The Model S I drove in last week may actually be different, by now, from the Model S I drive tomorrow.

But the real impact of Tesla lies in its distribution and service strategy.  Tesla is selling its cars from more than 22 stores nationwide and has won its first battle with traditional automobile dealers as a Massachusetts court dismissed a lawsuit brought by the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association (MSADA).  The lawsuit claimed that Tesla was in violation of Massachusetts law governing the sales and servicing of cars.

The National Automobile Dealer Association has indicated its intent to support the MSADA’s efforts to challenge Tesla’s sales model setting up an ongoing clash between the massively influential and politically connected NADA and Tesla, which is backed by a combination of deep pockets, green technology cachet and its own political connections.

At a time when antipathy between North American automobile dealers and OEMs is at a peak around the question of facilities standardization and modernization strategies, Tesla presents a disruptive approach to vehicle sales that aligns well with the growing retailing mantra of the Apple Store.  In fact, as part of the NADA’s Phase II report on factory image programs focused on showroom modernization and standardization, the association’s consultant noted Apple’s stores as a touchstone for future store design.  (Tesla hired Apple's former VP of real estate, George Blankenship more than two years with precisely this objective in mind.)

It is no secret that car makers have been trying to steal a few pages from Apple’s playbook with “genius bars” popping up in Hyundai showrooms and with Ford, BMW and GM all adding more in-store personnel/sales counselors to explain new vehicle systems.  But if Tesla is successful in defending its right to sell cars from company-owned stores, a no holds barred struggle could emerge between OEMs and independent dealers in North America.

Further challenging the traditional model is the fact that Tesla showrooms are divorced from the vehicle servicing function.  Vehicles are serviced by independent agents dispatched directly to visit customers.  Tesla has indicated plans, at least in Massachusetts, to open a service location separate from its store, but even this concession is viewed by MSADA as either a violation or a compromise of the law governing vehicle franchises which must have service on-site.  (Tesla is showing its cars in a mall in Natick, Mass.)

So, Tesla is disrupting the automotive market in a number of ways such as:

Including the cost of the embedded wireless service in the cost of the vehicle – though reserving the right to charge for this at some point in the future

Delivering Internet radio and streaming audio via the embedded modem

Delivering seemingly unlimited and endless software updates over the embedded modem

Developing vehicle systems almost entirely “in-house” with only limited support from traditional industry suppliers

Servicing the cars using independent agents

But, most importantly, selling the cars via company owned stores and with little or no service component - since there is almost nothing to service.

With all of the attention paid to Google’s self-driving cars in the past year, one might have concluded that Google was the most disruptive force in the industry.  In fact, it is Tesla that is rocking Motown, Munich, Tokyo et. al. with its fresh-baked, homegrown approach to automotive marketing.

In comparison to Tesla, Google is a virtual lapdog doing everything it can to play nice with car makers offering up Google Maps, POIs, Google Earth, Google Search and even Android as tools for vehicle development.  Even the Google car is seen as nothing more than a marketing platform for Google technology intended for sale to the industry.

Tesla is taking no prisoners and tipping its hat to no conventions as it continues to hit or surpass its own financial and production targets.  The company is selling cars with 25% margins in a market where new internal combustion engine driven cars are sold with single digit margins and dealers hope to make up the revenue on service.  And, like Google, Tesla is sharing its powertrain development with Toyota (RAV4 EV) and Daimler - which provided Tesla with a steering wheel for the Model S.

What should OEMs do?

It is not too late for car makers to update their dealer franchise strategies and business models.  Among the steps that ought to be considered is giving dealers greater flexibility around the manner in which facilities upgrades are funded and approved.  Car makers should recognize the important customer interface role played by dealers and work to lower their costs of doing business (ie. reduce the expenses associated with diagnostic hardware and software) and give dealers access to vehicle data derived from telematics systems.

Independent dealers need to be viewed by car makers as important allies in connecting with consumers.  It is time to put aside the adversarial relationship that is undermining the customer interaction – a relationship that is essential to improving customer satisfaction scores and retention.

It is inevitable that OEMs – particularly in the luxury segment - will seek to open showrooms to match Tesla’s high profile market presence.  But these measures should go hand in hand with supporting the existing independent dealer network.  Whether or how the OEMs choose to walk this tightrope remains to be seen.  In the meantime, Tesla will be opening soon in a mall near you

*A final note on the Model S infotainment system: The car comes with access to Slacker and TuneIn Radio via the embedded modem, an industry first.  Additional apps will require Tesla approval before being implemented.  The system also allows for Web browsing.  More importantly, the nature of the configuration suggests an upgrade path focused on software rather than hardware, since the 17" display consumes so much of the space normally reserved for a more traditional center stack.  Not all drivers will be pleased with the 17" display, which tends to wash out in bright sunlight, but it is fairly stunning at night.  The navigation feedback in the display is supplemented with instrument cluster guidance.  Some customers will be tempted to rip out the standard 17" display and start from scratch - but most will be too jazzed by the car's performance to much care about that kind of radical automotive surgery.


February 11, 2013 13:20 rlanctot

Car maker emphasis on mandated modernization, standardization or expansion across dealership bodies has almost no proven investment return justification, according to the National Automotive Dealer Association’s update of its Factory Image Programs report.  The lone exception to this ROI deficit is service expansion, where investment returns appear to be more predictable. 

The second phase of the NADA study also attempts to identify the nature of the future car buying experience and how dealers will or should adapt their facilities and sales and service strategies.  The study is available here: http://www.nadafrontpage.com/facilitystudy.xml. 

Consultant and ex-McKinsey analyst Glenn Mercer conducted the study and captured the essence of its findings thus: “Renovating a dilapidated store pays off, and while one should not expect much of a return from maintenance spending, service expansion can pay off well, whereas modernization investments tend to depend on how much assistance the OEM offers, and standardization spending is almost always a pure deadweight loss.”

The first phase of the study, released at last year’s NADA gathering, drew a standing-room-only crowd to hear the results.  With a more forgiving economy easing the pressure on dealers, this year’s release captured wide attention, but not the same level of intensity.  But the message was no less important.

Car makers have not given up on their image campaigns, and NADA has not given up its campaign to reverse or redirect these efforts.  “We’re requesting that auto manufacturers redouble their efforts to provide dealers with better business cases before investing in facility upgrades, and especially, to ease off on standardization demands that seem very hard to justify,” Mercer said.

Mercer’s report, which encompassed inputs from car makers and dealers along with retailers from other industries and architects, among others, attempts to paint a picture of the car dealer of the future.  In this context, he was able to identify the widespread interest in and adoption of Apple retail tactics, though he was also quick to note the customized external look and feel of most Apple stores and the crowded interiors – unlike the typical “garage Mahals” characteristic of many car dealers.

At the same time, selling and servicing a car is a different experience from selling a mobile device.  Study respondents identified the streamlining of paperwork and more efficient customer throughput at the dealership further complemented with concierge-like off-site service or vehicle pickup and dropoff as strategic directions in the market, few of which have been targeted by OEMs.

“Our conclusion is that the dealership system will fundamentally remain intact in 2025, but there is the possibility for much more efficient design of facilities, for example by moving support functions offsite, and by using new format approaches to grow service volumes,” Mercer added.
Mercer expressed great concern that the current trend to build more expensive and more brand-customized stores will lead to excessive and wasteful spending, as dealers repeatedly raze and rebuild their facilities, and as automakers constantly update their brand image campaigns.
“Meanwhile, as customer needs and behaviors continue to shift, we urge automakers and dealers to get more creative in addressing those changes, especially in service work, and that automakers become more flexible in approving low-cost ways to implement these ideas,” he said.

The disconnect between OEM and dealer priorities was manifest on the NADA show floor where dozens of companies offered customer relationship management (CRM) solutions, but few were offering the means to connect with consumers directly in their cars.  More service related apps were offered by companies such as Kaarma and DME Automotive, but the pieces of car connectivity tied directly to dealers were missing in most booths with the exception of Xtime, which was announcing additional dealer management system (DMS) integration and compatibility along with enhancements to the company’s service scheduling application.  But to achieve those returns, dealers need the tools to reliably and predictably capture more service revenue from new and existing customers. 

Competing solutions from AutoLoop, TimeHighway or DealerSocket.com focused on service scheduling via mobile apps or online, but were not showing the kind of deep integration offered by Xtime and reflected in the service scheduling function built into Hyundai’s Bluelink.  BMW, GM, Ford and Mercedes-Benz have all made some efforts to integrate in-vehicle connectivity platforms to dealers, but more work needs to be done and better integration with dealers needs to be achieved.

The need for enhanced customer connectivity strategies is made clear from the statement in the attached exhibit: “assuming you can fill the bays quickly.”  The best opportunity for most dealers to grow and capture a return on their investment is from an expansion of the service department.

The systems that are emerging to enable a stronger customer connection include on-board digital service manuals from companies such as Tweddle linked to telematics systems capable of integrating with dealers.  According to data released by Experian at the NADA event last week, cars are lasting longer.  And the longer cars last the greater the challenge facing dealers in holding onto that business.

Dealers need help with online resources and apps as well as access to vehicle data.  Car makers should be doing more to help dealers build the systems, solutions and programs to keep customers returning to the dealership and filling those service bays.  In the end, what good is an OEM image campaign focused on dealers if the customers are not bringing their vehicles back for service.

Ramping up service volume is important for a variety of reasons not touched on in the NADA report.  Enhanced and expanded service feeds on itself as added volume contributes to improved efficiency.  It also contributes to higher customer satisfaction and repeat vehicle sales.

One ominous note from Mercer’s findings is that only about 20% of dealers perform body work.  For most dealers, the volume of body work is insufficient to justify the investment.  What dealers may not realize is that a car that has experienced a collision reflects a customer at the lowest point of their ownership experience.  Body work is a strategic service offering for any dealer, one that is capable of contributing directly to higher customer satisfaction and repeat sales.

What’s good for the dealer is good for the car maker.  Car makers and dealers have a common interest in vehicle service and repairs being handled with authorized parts by a certified technician.  Proper service delivered in an appropriate manner contributes to positive CSI and repeat business.  Facilities programs contribute little or nothing to this process and poison dealer-OEM relations.  The sooner OEMs can shift their focus to helping dealers expand and improve their service offerings, the healthier the dealer-OEM relationship and resulting profits will be for both. 


February 3, 2013 18:32 rlanctot

“Gentlemen… We have the technology…” paraphrasing Richard Anderson in character as Oscar Goldman in the opening sequence of “The Six Million Dollar Man.”

In the U.S., three times as many people are killed in accidents that occur at intersections than are killed as a result of distracted driving. The technological remedies for this highway holocaust exist, but traffic authorities continue to be distracted by short-term fixes of dubious efficacy (red-light cameras) and daunting budget barriers.

This issue has particular resonance now that U.S. Dept. of Transportation Director Ray LaHood has announced his departure.  A new director will be resetting the agenda of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and intersection accidents ought to be high on the priority list. 

The issue of intersection safety has implications for fuel efficient driving and the coordination of urban traffic grids.  Some of the key applications for NHTSA’s proposed vehicle-to-infrastructure communication (using dedicated short-range communications – DSRC – technology) are built around the timing of traffic lights to ensure the smooth movement of traffic, the reduction of congestion and emissions, and the prevention of accidents.

Two innovative solutions (and a Federal study), take quite different approaches to meeting these challenges and highlight the use of smartphones and existing wireless technology, while also raising questions about the ability to transition the current fragmented traffic light infrastructure in the U.S. and elsewhere to DSRC technology.  (A more detailed discussion of this issue is available to Strategy Analytics clients at: http://bit.ly/VWQEBx - Vehicle Safety at the Crossroads – Literally.) 

The two solutions come from Global Mobile Alert and Green Driver.  The Federal study is being conducted by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). 

Global Mobile Alert has patented (http://bit.ly/XfZCdQ) the use of either an on-board or off-board map accessed by a mobile phone to alert drivers who are using the phone to hazardous conditions ahead including intersections, railroad crossings and school zones.  Alerts and messages to the driver can be tailored to the nature of the hazard. 

Global Mobile Alert has further patented the use of wireless communication between the traffic light and a mobile device to determine the phase of the light in relation to the speed of the car in order to alert the driver, particularly in the event of the mobile phone being in use.  Global Mobile Alert executives envision a variety of scenarios and applications of this patent - but – the fundamental functionality revolves around cellular communication and location technology.

Green Driver, on the other hand, taps into an Internet feed from local municipalities to access signal light timing data which can be fed to smartphones for the purpose of enabling more fuel efficient driving by letting drivers avoid red lights.  But the Green Driver approach can also alert users to red-light runners, as long as those drivers have the app downloaded to an operating phone. 

Meanwhile, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in the U.S. is in the midst of a two-year project to reduce traffic delays by enabling communication between vehicles and traffic lights.  (BMW is a sponsor of the research along with two universities.)  The FHWA estimates that “poor traffic signal timing accounts for 10 percent of all traffic delays – about 300M vehicle-hours – on major roadways alone.”

The FHWA’s objective is to use probe data associated with the deployment of vehicle-to-infrastructure communication to achieve a transformational change in how traffic is controlled.  To quote the study abstract: 

“This part of the study looks at the development of algorithm sequences for a connected vehicle to inform only relevant traffic signals about the vehicle’s proximity, velocity and signal request.  Information is sent from a traffic signal to a cloud-based data center, and then communicated over a 3G/4G network to in-car applications.

“With this data, the car is able to display signal phase and timing (SPAT) information to a driver and, if required, adapt the cruise control in real-time, according to the vehicle trajectory, to get through a signal corridor without stopping.  The technology, called ‘smart cruising’ also allows a driver to choose between reduced travel time or increased fuel efficiency.  Using ‘motor stops automatically’ technology, the vehicle can drive while the engine is switched off, effectively sailing along a corridor.” 

The FHWA’s use of the 3G/4G cellular network for its study reflects the fact that the only intersections equipped, today, with DSRC transponders are associated with a handful of pilots, such as the UMTRI V2I pilot in Michigan.  Global Mobile Alert takes the map-as-a-sensor approach to alerting drivers to intersections, but has also provided for RF communication between the car and infrastructure to support intersection alerts to drivers via the smartphone.

Green Driver’s work in connecting with the IP-based SPAT information of local municipalities (the company is currently operating in Eugene and Portland, Oregon; across the entire state of Utah; in the Dallas suburb of Garland; and in San Jose), has revealed a significant degree of fragmentation in traffic light systems and infrastructure around the U.S.  Some cities are online and able to “play ball” with Green Driver – sharing their SPAT info.  Other cities are able to share, but decline to do so.  Still other cities simply do not have the capability due to the limitations of the back-end systems or the physical roadside infrastructure. 

All three approaches – each targeted at different problems – are built around existing wireless technology.  Both Global Mobile Alert and Green Driver are essentially using the map as a sensor.  Green Driver obtains the SPAT data via the Internet while GMA proposes the use of cellular communication from the traffic light to obtain the timing info.

The new leadership at NHTSA has an opportunity to prioritize the reduction of intersection crashes and fatalities around a market-based approach based on existing technology.  Smartphones, map data, the cellular network and Internet connectivity ought to be leveraged to put into the dashboards of drivers the traffic light location and phase status necessary to improve the efficient management of traffic, reduce congestion and polluting emissions, and prevent fatal accidents. 

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) continues to advocate for the efficacy of red light cameras to reduce red-light running and related accidents citing its latest research on installations in Virginia.  Not only do the IIHS findings conflict with more rigorous studies conducted by traffic authorities and universities everywhere from California and New Mexico to Virginia and New Jersey, it is by now clear that red-light cameras are nothing more than a revenue producing distraction and an invasion of privacy.

Red-light cameras do not even put additional officers on the street better able to focus on more important law enforcement matters.  In most deployments, officers must review and approve the citations – shifting the burden rather than conserving resources. 

We, indeed, have the technology to save lives, reduce congestion and emissions, and enable the safe, smooth flow of traffic through intersections.  And the best news of all, we can achieve all these objectives with market-oriented implementations of existing technology. 


January 31, 2013 15:07 rlanctot

“Most maps, including Google Maps, have not yet mapped the area.” – The Huffingtonpost (Sept. 2012) describing the Angelika Film Center in the Mosaic District of Merrifield, Va.

Can automakers, dealers, Tier One suppliers, and automotive app developers afford to continue requiring customers to pay ($199!) for annual map updates? My latest navigation adventure highlights the fact that the time has arrived both for “free” lifetime map updates in the car and more creative means for delivering monthly, weekly, DAILY! map updates for on-board navigation systems.

The map in the car has become the spinal cord for safety, powertrain, security, infotainment, and navigation systems.  Nearly every advanced system in the car requires access to location information – preferably on-board.

Increasingly, the on-board map is becoming a shared resource both for advanced driver assist systems and contextually aware infotainment systems.  For both of these cases context is determined, in part, by location along with weather, traffic and driver status among other things.

But there is an even more urgent issue, that I will return to, and that is the danger inherent in a driver following navigation instructions with an out of date map.  Few things are more distracting or disturbing than being told to make turns onto roads that don’t exist to enter freeways that have been bypassed.

All of these elements were brought home to me this past weekend.

My wife and I were trying to get to the relatively new Angelika Film Center in the Mosaic District of Merrifield, Va. last Sunday.  It was our first trip to this theater, so I was confident that neither the address nor the name of the Theater would be available in the on-board navigation system in my 2013 BMW 3 Series.  (This assumption would later prove to be accurate.)

To get to the theater I used Fullpower’s MotionX GPS navigation app on my iPhone 4.  MotionX is one of the most popular navigation apps on the iPhone.  Unfortunately, on this occasion, it insisted on directing my wife and I to a destination five miles away from the theater’s actual location.  (UPDATE: This was due to the fact that the Nokia map data was missing the information for my destination, according to Philippe Kahn, CEO of Fullpower.)

My wife then proceeded to look up the theater in the on-board POIs, with no success.  We then obtained the address online and attempted to enter it directly into the navigation system – ignoring the fact that the system in the car will not accept addresses that are not yet in the system.  So, in this case, we entered the street number closest to the actual address of the film center.

Half an hour after the movie’s start time we arrived at the cinema.  We accepted our fate and settled into a round of shopping and dinner and went to the next show – making for a later evening than originally planned.  (At least the toney establishment had toasted caramel popcorn!)

It was a minor event at the close of an otherwise uneventful weekend, but it highlights a huge problem that remains unsolved – on-board map updates.  (Yes, there are a few ways this unfortunate incident might have been avoided such as: a) using the Sendtocar function, which for some reason has not been working for my car; b) use the on-board Google Local Search to obtain the address – just checked and this would have indeed worked; c) ring up the BMW Assist Concierge service and have them download the address; or d) try a different mobile navigation app.)

Anyone who has been through a similar experience will appreciate the minor nightmare of not being able to find a simple destination.  You can imagine my wife and I pulling over into parking lots and side streets to double-check the entry and the results and to try a different approach.  I shudder to think about the amount of eyes-off-road time that was required before we found a solution and reached our destination.

But my minor nightmare is a terrifying reality.  Not only is the out-of-date map situation a nuisance, it is a driving hazard and a customer satisfaction failure.  It is no surprise, then, that JD Power identifies navigation systems as a source of ongoing and mounting complaints for car owners.

While JD Power is focused primarily on the user interface, it is time for the industry to confront the fact that every car being sold is going out the door with an obsolete map.  An obsolete map on board is an invitation to catastrophe for the car dealer, the manufacturer and the customer.  Yet no one seems especially worried or concerned.

The problem is most obvious in emerging markets where new cities and roads are proliferating on an almost-daily basis highlighting the limitations of digitized map in the car.  It is no wonder that Strategy Analytics’ research with navigation users in China has found the typical driver using multiple navigation systems - phone, on-board and portable navigation device – to get from point A to point B.

The good news is that the leading map makers – TomTom and Nokia – have progressed their map-building processes to enable daily if not real-time map updates on a global scale.  Nokia has even taken steps to put more of its surveying vehicles on the road while also providing for crowdsourcing of map data, something TomTom initiated many years earlier.  The problem lies in delivering those updates to the on-board system.

Most consumers these days will use their mobile phones to navigate if a destination is in a new or unusual location.  I will not delve into the shortcomings of mobile phone navigation in a car, but suffice it to say it is popular based on the findings of multiple Strategy Analytics surveys.

Car makers Ford, GM and Toyota Motor Europe have tried with varying success to enable display in the car of smartphone-based navigation instructions.  Ford was first with this approach and has had the most success.

But smartphone-based navigation defeats the integration of the map – the application spinal cord of the car – into advanced safety, powertrain and infotainment systems.  While smartphones can, indeed, deliver a contextual experience to the driver, the on-board map is necessary to properly anticipate workload demands on the driver based on the integration of on-board sensors with map-based and other inputs.

So, smartphone integration, while attractive and a useful car-selling proposition falls short of a fully integrated experience.  But that doesn’t mean the smartphone can’t provide another means to solving this dilemma.

At the recent North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Johnson Controls showed a solution from NNG using the smartphone as a map updating tool.  While the details were not clear – including whether the entire map or just portions of the map will be updated or, indeed, what the cost will be – the concept is spectacular.

Any driver getting into a car ought to be able to update the on-board maps on demand as needed.  Given current connectivity options, the smartphone is the smartest and best solution to this problem.

The fact that Johnson Controls is the first to show this approach publicly reflects the power of a newcomer entering the market.  While NNG works closely with other Tier Ones, such as Harman, it is Johnson Controls that put the concept front and center in its booth in Detroit, although no press release was published.

Based on conversations with competing navigation software providers, the likelihood is that competing systems and solutions will soon be on display.  The bottom line is that, once again, the smartphone represents the solution to a hazardous driving condition, not the source.  At stake is the mitigation of driver distraction, enhancing the driving experience and assuring the highest level of customer satisfaction.

 


January 1, 2013 13:45 rlanctot

2012 will be remembered as the year of usage-based insurance. But in retrospect it is a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. Is usage-based insurance the silver bullet to simultaneously reduce traffic congestion, carbon emissions and highway fatalities?

The ultimate objective of UBI programs is to modify driving behavior or reward existing good driving behavior. (Yes, I know, insurance companies are looking to reduce churn by rewarding their best customers and stealing their competitors' best customers, but let's look at it from the consumer's perspective.) Some progress was made in 2012, but there is ample room for improvement in the area of on-board/embedded systems, OBDII plug-ins, aftermarket systems and smartphone apps.

So where do we stand at the outset of 2013? 

First, it is important to understand the key objectives of driver behavior modification: 

  1.  Increased safety
  2. Reduced emissions
  3. Increased fuel efficiency
  4. Lower insurance premiums

I start the year off in a new 2013 BMW 3 Series with a remarkably distracting BMW Apps iPhone integration (not reviewed here).  In trading up from my 2011 BMW 3 Series I have pleased my wife by moving to remote keyless entry, but disappointed her with a car that has no seat warmers – unlike its predecessor.  Like its predecessor, it also lacks a backup camera or sensors.  (Clearly out of step with the impending U.S. mandate.)

Still, the new car does come with a turbo-charged four cylinder engine and start-stop technology significantly reducing fuel consumption while increasing horse power.  There are multiple sources of feedback around green driving in the car and there is a toggle near the shifter to select driving style – Sport or ECO PRO.

With ECO PRO, the driver can extend the range of the vehicle by adjusting driving style according to cues in the instrument cluster.  It is no surprise that a German car company offers such a function since an hour-long drive on the Autobahn can produce dramatically different fuel consumption – and, hence, range – results based on speed.

A system for discouraging speeding in a BMW is a stroke of genius, particularly for me, given the fact that my record of violations spiked following the acquisition of my first BMW.  (There is no app – not even Coyote or Trapster – that would have saved me.)

The ECO PRO driving mode introduces a series of instrument cluster symbols and signals making very subtle (it IS a BMW after all) suggestions primarily based on reducing acceleration.  ECO PRO also ties into the operation of climate control systems for maximum fuel savings.  The system is even able to calculate and display for the driver the estimated percentage of fuel savings based on the settings selected.  The driver can also control the timing and nature of the driving tips offered by the car.

This system can provide a history of fuel consumption including energy recovery.  And, yes, it can also control the rate of cabin heating or cooling and the output of the seat heater – if there were one.  Similar systems are available from other car makers, but I am most familiar with the BMW offering and it is emblematic of an industry trend.

In contrast to this system of buttons, settings, alerts, icons and statistical analysis, my wife’s Toyota Sienna is equipped with an aftermarket Pioneer Aha Radio which periodically provides an “ECO Graph” of her driving performance.  I personally think my wife is something of a lead foot, but she thinks she is performing pretty well in this report.

Unfortunately, the report appears at random intervals and fails to explain what, if anything, my wife is doing well or how she can improve.  For her, the driving feedback is simultaneously interesting, intriguing and frustrating.  She thinks there should be rewards – anything from gold stars to insurance discounts – associated with her good driving.

There is no doubt that she is correct.  Her driving experiences in 2012 included a brief stint testing Progressive Insurance’s SnapShot usage-based insurance OBDII plug in.  The device annoyed her with loud beeping during hard braking, but wirelessly delivered a graphical presentation of her driving behavior to a Website. (There are a wide range of third-party offerings with Website dashboards charting driving behavior and providing driving tips.)

Progressive offers SnapShot in Virginia, where my wife and I live, but after mailing the device back to the company, the insurer never responded with an evaluation or offer of coverage.  SnapShot claims customers can save up to 30% in the program. 

Whether that is actually true or not depends on how much you trust an insurance company.  Progressive more or less discourages drivers the company determines will not benefit from the program.

My wife briefly tested another OBDII plug-in from a company called GridLoyalty.  Founded by a former Intelligent Mechatronics executive, GridLoyalty promised a range of affinity offers based on driving behavior.  Unfortunately, most of the affinity offers were associated with organizations – such as convenience stores – in the Las Vegas area.  While the device provided wireless feedback to a Website – a la Progressive – there were no offers in Virginia.

In the year past, insurance companies and their third-party partners, crowed about the wonders of usage-based insurance.  Even government regulators embraced usage-based insurance as a tool for reducing driving and, therefore, congestion and emissions.  Studies show that drivers in UBI programs tend to drive less in general and after joining the programs.

In spite of the enthusiasm and publicity surrounding UBI programs and more than five years of market availability there are still fewer than 2.5M users of these systems around the world.  There is good reason for this lackluster consumer response.  The programs offer minimal savings and require a significant surrender of privacy.

The daily relevance of an insurance discount is less a benefit than a sword of Damocles swinging over the head of the driver in case that driver deviates from his or her previously safe pattern of driving.  What is missing are daily rewards and/or penalties.

MetroMile, an insurance startup, is introducing a pay-per-mile based offering that the company hopes to expand to other value propositions such as vehicle service and warranty offers.  The MetroMile offer is a step in the right direction, but falls short.  What is really missing is a more comprehensive affinity program tying vehicle use to offers and discounts for driving-relevant products and services such as fuel, parking, restaurants and tolls.

The MetroMile offer (Company Website: http://bit.ly/ZRHooE) is attractive for its simplicity relative to offerings from insurance companies.  But what is necessary is for local governments, tolling authorities, roadside franchise operators and such to coalesce around wireless payment systems to enable a more broad-based program of driver rewards and, yes, penalties – ie. drive less, save more.

Implications:

Car makers, such as BMW, are already delivering on in-vehicle systems designed to modify driving behavior.  The next step is actually rewarding that good behavior with more than just insurance discounts based on intrusive tracking systems. 

A free cup of coffee, tank of gas, parking space, hamburger or oil change ought to be enough to convince nearly any driver to be willing to share their location information and vehicle data.  Though distracting, BMW Apps does provide smartphone-based vehicle information feedback while also enabling some limited remote operation of the vehicle - illustrating the fact that there is a role for the smartphone in this new value proposition.

And what about traffic management authorities able to reward drivers - from specific neighborhoods and/or on short notice via smartphone apps or other alerts! - for NOT driving on days when high levels of congestion or pollution are anticipated?  Or maybe specific drivers are granted HOV lane access or other driving privileges on demand or for a particular time of day - or for a premium as in the Washington, DC area.  There are clear opportunities for public-private collaboration and/or direct consumer engagement.

Is there a future for usage-based insurance?  Yes, there will always be consumers who will do anything for a discount of any kind.  But usage-based insurance is likely to remain a niche application for the foreseeable future.  That niche role will be a disappointment to governments hoping for UBI programs to provide a market-based means for reducing emissions and traffic.

But if car makers are able to build more effective affinity programs, then UBI programs will benefit from the expansion of vehicle data sharing.  The question is which marketing partners and OEMs will lead the way in 2013 and what will these programs look like.  And, finally, is it possible to retrofit a 2013 3 Series with seat warmers?


November 30, 2012 18:59 rlanctot

Just picked up my wife's Toyota Sienna from the local Toyota dealer where I bought the car and heard a familiar tale of woe.  Seems a customer had a bad accident and took his vehicle to an independent repair shop as per direction from his insurance company.  The independent shop patched the car back together except that the car was no longer functioning properly.  As a result, after spending $10,000+ with an independent, the customer had to bring his car back to the Toyota dealer to try to figure out what was wrong.

The scenario is more familiar than you may think and it highlights a multi-billion dollar opportunity currently overlooked by the automotive industry.  Drivers who get into accidents - big ones or fender benders - nearly always call the insurance company first to file a claim or to get assistance and advice.  The insurance company almost always directs the customer to its network of preferred independent shops to repair the car.  There are a lot of things the insurance company is NOT telling its customer and using genuine OEM parts is just the beginning.

By going to an independent shop the customer risks his car:

-> Being rapaired with unauthorized, third-party parts which will void the warranty.  This includes everything from sensors to windshields.

-> Being repaired by a company that may not even have access to specific parts - either from the OEM or third parties - in the event the car is a new model.

-> Being repaired poorly and incorrectly - particularly with regard to electronic systems.  While independents have some protection to access repair information from OEMs, the information is expensive and independents usually can't afford to repair all makes and models.

-> Being repaired unsafely.

In the worst case, if the customer is leasing the vehicle he or she may be liable for any or all third-party replacement parts being removed and replaced by genuine OEM parts at the customer's expense.

It is for this reason that dealers in the United Kingdom have mounted a now two-year-old campaign to convince customers to call their dealers first, not the insurance company.  Using this approach, the dealer becomes an advocate for the customer to ensure a proper repair occurs, regardless of whether the repair is performed by the dealer or an independent.

As for Customer X at my local Toyota dealer, hours of labor will now go into a forensic exercise to diagnose the problem before the repair of the repair can begin.  It won't be long before dealers in the U.S. are spreading the same message.  Customers should call the dealer first before the insurance company - or at least make sure the dealer has a chance to bid on the repair.

The dealer has a much bigger stake in ensuring the proper repair is made and the customer made happy.  The insurance company is solely interested in mitigating its expense.  The well-being of the customer or the car is a lower priority.

What's at stake for dealers and OEMs?  According to the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association, the collison repair business in the U.S. is worth $40B - and new car dealers have about a 15% market share.  That's what is at stake.  To say nothing of the opportunity to sell the customer a new car and, generally, to provide an enhanced customer care experience which is likely to produce higher customer satisfaction scores.

For additional insight:  Insurance Telematics: Path to Profit through Accident Aftercare - bit.ly/XVVYua