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Diverse Innovation vs. Standardization

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Aug. 24, 2021—In a recent column published for Medium.com, Gill Pratt, Toyota’s chief scientist, pushed back heavily against the claim that the company has been dragging its feet on the adoption of electric vehicles and ineffectively using R&D resources by investing in four separate alternative energy drivetrains. 

Pratt argues that as the world moves toward the electrification of its vehicles, no one can be certain what the full solution to reducing carbon emission can be. 

“The solution to long term carbon emissions will involve large changes to many of the world’s energy production systems, and tomorrow’s technology will be different than today’s,” Pratt writes. “Faced with this uncertainty, our strategy is to place several bets on several promising pathways, including BEVs, and adapt our strategy as we learn.”

Pratt makes a strong point. Forcing a specific strategy of development isn’t conducive to innovation, and the best approach “is for policymakers around the world to insist on results, and allow innovators … to create diverse solutions to achieve those results.”

However, while that freedom from restraint and ability to innovate will achieve greater results in the long run, the lack of standardization puts aftermarket repairers and customers alike in a tough position in the near-term future. 

Whether it be electric vehicles, ADAS systems or some other technological advancement, cars are going to break down and are going to need repair.

“One thing is very clear: Human beings are building these machines and they will fail,” industry technologist Chris Chesney says. “We’re still going to have suspensions that fail. We're still going to have electrical systems, primarily data networks and data buses on board to control those systems. We're still going to have tires and brakes that wear out.” 

As ADAS, EVs and other vehicle technologies have rapidly evolved in the last five years, though, there has been no standardization of those technologies because each OEM has been exploring and developing those new systems in different ways.

Susanna Gotsch of CCC Intelligent Solutions likened those diverse systems to “a secret sauce” for each OEM, not only because of how unique those systems are to any given manufacturer, but also how protective of those systems each OEM has become. How Ford implements its ADAS sensors is different than how General Motors does it, which is different than Stellantis and so on. 

Even within the same OEM, systems can differ greatly—a sensor system in a Buick will look different than that in a Chevrolet—and sometimes even different models from the same brand will have slight differences in sensor placement, type and deployment. 

While that may be good for innovation and could produce more effective high-level ADAS systems more quickly, the lack of standard repair procedures passes the buck to independent repairers to keep up with emerging technologies and learn quickly how to fix those systems.

Bryan Kauffeld, owner of Ulmer’s Auto Care in Ohio, says his shops have been on the forefront of technological developments for as long as he can remember in his 20-year career in the industry, and in the last decade they have developed a specialty working with ADAS tech. Even with that emphasis, though, he says the last five years have been more challenging than before just with the sheer amount of new and diverse technologies that are being developed.

“It’s made it difficult, and the investment has certainly been greater because of that, but as we gain experience I think it’s going to be an advantage of ours,” Kauffeld says. “Getting into the business, however, has become a pretty large roadblock. If there was more standardization it would be a much easier business to penetrate.”

Kauffeld says he’s optimistic and excited for the trajectory of the industry and has “had a blast” working on these new ADAS systems and thinks that overall they’ll be a tremendous benefit for both repairers and drivers alike. He adds, however, that in order for that to happen, more repairers need to get on board with the new technology and have to actively educate themselves and invest in the ability to repair more tech-heavy vehicles. 

“I’d say the lack of standardization is a con for the customer as a whole because you’ve got a whole array of repair shops and body shops that think of ADAS completely differently,” Kauffeld says. “There are some that if there isn’t a light on, they’re OK letting it go, whereas others understand that if the front bumper cover was taken off or the windshield was replaced, some kind of suspension issue, alignment issue, even though there isn’t a light on those systems need to be addressed.”

In the most recent Crash Course Report from CCC Intelligent Solutions, as reported on previously by ADAPT, nearly half of drivers who responded to that survey say they turn off ADAS features in their vehicles either because they’re perceived as a nuisance, are distracting or are otherwise unhelpful. Kauffeld says that repairers shouldn’t see that as a reason to avoid working on that technology but as the exact opposite. 

“As more and more people experience those safety features and see how they can prevent injuries, prevent accidents and save lives … as we educate customers, they will become more aware of their capabilities and feel much more comfortable with the experiences that ADAS brings them.” 

The CCC report claims that “enough value exists overall” in ADAS that the technology is already a given in the automotive industry. OEMs will continue to innovate and create increasingly diverse systems, and that places the onus on repairers to evolve and adapt to those technologies in order to keep the industry moving forward.  

“Consumers that are actively embracing these ADAS technologies want to know that their repair shop has both the equipment and the knowledge to repair ADAS-equipped vehicles,” Gotsch says.

Image: Taras Makarenko

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