The auto industry is constantly evolving, with astonishing leaps in technology turning something like a self-driving car from a sci-fi dream to a prototype in the time span of a generation.

But technological advances that change the landscape of the auto industry are nothing new. Not long ago, innovations such as fuel injection, antilock braking systems and even check-engine lights were seen as the ultimate in cutting-edge technology.

Now, all sectors of the auto industry need to be ready to react to even greater leaps forward in auto technology.

For the aftermarket, this means being ready to meet new advancements and futuristic car models with complementary upgrades in repair and maintenance services.

To stay on top of the tech evolution, aftermarket professionals should stay focused on trends affecting three sectors.

Autonomous cars

The possible proliferation of driverless cars represents the biggest potential transformation in the automobile industry.

On-demand mobility and data-driven services (crucial components of an autonomous-driving system) could create up to $1.5 trillion in car sales and aftermarket products and services by 2030.

This includes the cost of eventual software upgrades for self-driving vehicles. As with all software- and hardware-based technology, autonomous operating systems will need upgrades on a regular basis, just like a smartphone or a laptop. Whether those software upgrades one day will be provided to consumers by the IT department of an auto dealership, by aftermarket specialists or over the air remains to be seen.

Running parallel to the potential rise of the driverless car is a potential decline in private-vehicle sales.

More people will be turning to shared cars in the future, which would reasonably require more repairs, maintenance and parts replacement due to higher wear and tear from multiple users.

If more shared vehicles are also autonomous, following the example of shared car services such as Uber that have experimented with driverless cars, those autonomous shared cars will experience even more wear than regular shared cars.

In fact, they may almost never stop driving, instead remaining constantly on the road shuttling riders from place to place. The need for maintenance and repair of such vehicles would be immense.

Not everyone will immediately sell their current car and purchase an autonomous vehicle, or rely only on a shared car. The aftermarket has time to take stock of the rise of the autonomous car and adjust for a shift in demand for services in the future accordingly.      

High-tech enhancements

Aftermarket consumers have more choice in technology than ever before, even if not everyone will be buying a driverless car any time soon.

The increased variety of supply and demand for new technology, such as driver aid and infotainment, means aftermarket specialists will need to develop expertise and services catered to these types of enhancements.

High-tech auto enhancements can include products such as:

  • Head-up displays that keep drivers’ eyes on the road while also keeping track of GPS navigation and directional services
  • Driver-aid systems that include back-up cameras and other aids to help drivers avoid collisions
  • Cloud-powered systems that let drivers control services on the car through apps or to call for assistance while driving; and other apps or enhancements that connect multiple smart devices to a car via Bluetooth.

All of these technologies allow customers to dramatically upgrade cars without buying a new vehicle. They also represent unique opportunities for the aftermarket to learn how to adapt and provide maintenance and repair for these software products in the future.

To succeed in a world of constant auto-tech advancements and upgrades, automakers, suppliers and service providers need to leverage partnerships and alliances to find the highest quality and combination of services for consumers.   

Industry momentum

Despite exciting new developments in car tech, aftermarkets have seen comparatively restrained evolutions in their services.

For example, in 2003 Tesla shook the car world with the introduction of the first modern electric car for consumers. The automobile industry saw this breakthrough technology as a major disruption to the traditional products and services they had been providing to consumers for more than 100 years. Today, EV sales are less than impressive. Impediments include high prices and a lack of a recharging network.

The industry’s reactive momentum was much slower than the initial tech push would suggest, and the aftermarket hasn’t needed to completely overhaul its services and products for an all-electric car fleet quite yet.

However, the vehicle-service industry should remain and has remained current when it comes to repairs and maintenance on newer operating systems.

Technicians have received more specialized tech-related training than ever, attracting higher-tech consumer business.

According to the Auto-Care Assn., there were 264 million vehicles in operation in the U.S. The future of the automotive repair business appears stronger than ever. 

Randy Wright is president of Cottman Transmission and Total Auto Care.