What Do Self-Driving Fleets Mean for the Future of Aftermarket Parts?

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Self-Driving cars are getting a lot of press, whether it’s Google cars roaming the streets, GM’s purchase of Cruise Automation, or Uber’s plan to put a fleet of self-driving Ford Fusions to work carrying passengers around Pittsburgh. How will this shift to self-driving vehicles affect parts management for fleets when their use becomes widespread?

What makes a self-driving car or truck different from a regular vehicle? To make a car self-driving, a system is added that uses a series of sensors to make judgments about driving conditions and react accordingly. A lot of the interface is already in the modern vehicle with systems like throttle-by-wire, adaptive cruise control and the steer-by-wire system recently introduced in some Infinitis. In other words, from a purely functional perspective, this just adds another small set of electronics to today’s electronically complicated systems.

In practice, there should be a major difference in how and when parts fail. Replacing human drivers with electronics means a consistent driving style across the fleet, and that should lead to fairly consistent wear patterns. Parts like brake pads and suspension components may wear with such consistency that they can be put on a maintenance schedule just like oil and filter changes.

How does a self-driving car know when it’s broken? Internal diagnosis should be the same as the OBD systems used today, but it will be coupled with telemetry data from the self-driving system. Instead of drivers telling the fleet mechanic or manager about pulsating brakes or unusual noises, the system will report performance measurements that are out of spec. Some parts will still need to be inspected periodically by a mechanic: it’s unlikely that a self-driving system will notice a damaged body part unless it’s actively interfering with vehicle operation.

How will this information be communicated? We should see a blend of Tesla’s Internet of Things (IoT) update system and vehicle tracking systems currently used by trucking companies to keep tabs on semis running across the country. This two-way system will let the fleet manager check the status of vehicles remotely, and the vehicle can send warnings about repair issues or request a tow if there’s an accident or major failure. Using an IoT-based system that transfers data using a regular cellular connection will allow this information to be accessed using an API through a regular web browser. This can be set up to give the right amount of access to everyone involved in the vehicle’s use and maintenance: customers can get an ETA based on the vehicle’s location, fleet managers and technicians can access location and repair information, parts suppliers can see repair information and automakers can push software updates to address known issues.

How does this all add up for aftermarket parts suppliers? Although the automaker will have an active connection to the vehicle, it’s highly unlikely that they will be able to lock out parts from other suppliers since self-driving cars are just adding another system on top of what’s already there. Managing parts supplies at a warehouse level will get simpler since a consistent driving style will lead to more consistent wear. Fleet managers will be able to plan repairs ahead of time based on information sent by the vehicle, even if it’s currently on the road: that means most parts deliveries can be bundled together instead of having to send parts out throughout the day as vehicles come in and are inspected. Suppliers can even be privy to this information without giving them access to the entire management system, adding yet another tool for managing parts stock.

While self-driving cars for the masses are still years away, Vertical Development can leverage the latest technology and over 30 years of industry experience to help you manage your auto parts data, simplify print, electronic and catalog production, and map to industry formats. Easily. Economically. On time. On budget.

Call us at (847) 609-9540 or email sales@verticaldev.com to get started today!