How Generative AI is Powering Innovation in Automotive Repair

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

How Generative AI is Powering Innovation in Automotive Repair

By Mark Seng, Vice President, Sales & Business Development, Predii

Mark Seng, Vice President, Sales & Business Development, Predii
Mark Seng

When was the last time you’ve had an issue with your car? Was it a check engine light? Leaking oil? Maybe loss of power and some obscure, high pitch noise coming from your engine while accelerating (hello, central support bearing). Whatever led you to your trusted repair shop, the experience of getting your vehicle fixed is likely not your favorite pastime – neither is it mine. 

For decades, the Automotive Service and Repair Ecosystem has been striving to optimize our customers’ service experience – all while navigating a highly complex, highly competitive industry. And while our industry certainly has faced many disruptions in the past, few have been as impactful as what we have been observing in the last couple of years. “Data is the new oil,” “The world is one big data problem” – the list of statements by analysts, CEOs and researchers is endless. They all agree: competitiveness of the future is built on data and an organization’s ability to leverage its intelligence most effectively. Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered business solutions are on the rise.

This development has peaked since the beginning of this year: Generative AI is taking the world by storm. AI is a hot topic in just about every industry. Our industry is no exception.

How can Artificial Intelligence benefit the Automotive Service and Repair Ecosystem?

As everyone in the industry knows, the DIFM ecosystem is complex. There are nearly 300 million vehicles in operation today, any one of which may need repair on any given day in any zip code across the country. This generates over 200 million repair orders annually in the United States alone. Billions of connected car events are being generated. Customers voice their concerns online.

All this data is extremely valuable. But can organizations leverage it? Much of the data coming from the Automotive Service and Repair Ecosystem is as complex as the industry itself: highly diverse, a little messy, with inconsistent terminology. In other words: not usable. While “Right to Repair” may make data accessible, AI will be crucial to making it actionable. 

What does this mean? Let me introduce three major disruptions AI is bringing to our industry:

1. Unlocking the power of historical data. Specialized AI solutions can read, interpret and present service and repair data in a clean, accurate manner. You can imagine them almost like a senior expert technician assessing past repair procedures – but billions per month. AI helps unlock perhaps the greatest asset in the aftermarket: the historical data our industry is sitting on. Intelligence extracted from collective repair events powers multiple use cases and helps technicians make the right diagnosis, order the right parts and make the correct repairs to solve the problem.

2. Democratization of Expertise. AI enables equal access to information for everyone. Expert technician meets the educated consumer. Let us look at two dimensions here:

The Expert Technician. AI addresses the lack of experienced technicians. The number of technicians is expected to continue to decline through the end of this decade by 4%, with 30% of technicians being 55 years or older. This is a major challenge in our industry and is happening while vehicles are becoming more and more complex. More technology, new cameras and sensors are all being added every year. Technicians with little experience are faced with learning not only mechanical repairs but with learning how to diagnose and properly repair technologically advanced computers and electronic systems on today’s vehicles. This trend is only going to accelerate. Artificial Intelligence can be leveraged to build Guided Repair solutions that augment the work of inexperienced technicians and accelerate the learning curve.

The Educated Customer. This speaks to a development we’ve observed with “price shopping” for years. Drivers are much more aware of parts and labor pricing before they enter a shop. While a concern for many at first, most competitive companies in the industry embrace this transparency and openly communicate pricing. The same evolution is happening with repair and maintenance information.

Still, most consumers, even many of us in the industry, are uncomfortable taking our car into a shop. We know the car needs a brake job, but we’re sitting on pins and needles when the shop calls later in the day just waiting to hear everything else the car might need – and then must make a decision on what to approve. That decision is often made on the trust I have in that shop, and in that mechanic.

The biggest issue often is that, sure – many vehicles may require that additional repair, but does my vehicle need it? Does it need it now? Doesn’t where I drive it and how I drive it make my repair needs different than someone else’s? The answer is – of course it does.

AI-powered intelligence can add a great deal of transparency by providing accurate recommendations for a specific VIN, mileage driven, or ZIP code. We call these “personalized, localized insights.”

Think about it: This is a powerful way to build trust between the shop and their customers. Seeing a recommendation personalized to me specifically – before I enter the shop – makes me feel more comfortable and I am more likely to agree to additional work being recommended. This drives both increased trust and higher revenue potential for the shop.

3. Predictive Intelligence. AI powers predictive maintenance, demand forecasting and even predicting breakdown events. Artificial Intelligence is uniquely suited to understand the true nature of a service event by understanding and correlating data points related to an issue. While business analytics tools have always been good at deriving insights from single, organized data streams, AI is able to understand a service event more holistically – and therefore able to drive much more accurate predictions. AI will ultimately take our industry to “Right part, right place, ahead of time” concept.

All in all, AI – specifically AI that is trained to interpret automotive service and repair data in particular, is nothing short of a game changer in our industry. And the journey has just begun!

Generative AI in Automotive: Myth or Opportunity?

Generative AI has just become the hot topic in almost all our conversations. Most notably, the world has learned about ChatGPT – but this is only one of many applications that are on the rise. 

As part of the AAPEX Education Online Webinar Series, we will discuss the risks and opportunities of Generative AI in our industry in full length during our free webinar on June 27th, How Generative AI is Powering Innovation in Automotive Repair.” I would like to address two (teaser) thoughts as part of this blog. 

Generative AI innovates user interaction. The true power of Generative AI lies in its unique ability to augment user interaction. Generative AI powered user experiences will transform how users – technicians and customers alike – will interact with service applications. A completely AI-based service advisor would be able to interact with a customer over the phone, in real-time as an issue occurs: 

Imagine a conversation like this:

This conversation can be powered by automotive service specific Large Language Models. Not in 10 years – this is happening now.

AI is not always correct. As any other highly specialized industry, we will need to address the topic of inaccuracies or incorrect information (“hallucinations”). Generative AI has the capability of having a human-like conversation. This can be misleading and, since these systems are entirely convincing, it will be very hard to distinguish incorrect responses. Generative AI systems need to be properly tuned for automotive to avoid hallucination and lack of “expert” knowledge that could produce incorrect results or even pose a safety risk. Proper certification, along with guardrails in legislation will be crucial – and need to be addressed soon. 

To summarize: AI is a tool like any other. It needs to be understood. It needs to be specific to the job at hand – specific to automotive in order to meet the challenges we’re facing. 

When leveraged correctly, it can help build trust between the shop and the consumer through transparent sharing of personalized, vehicle-specific, historical repair information.

When applied effectively, it makes technicians smarter and quicker – helping them fix issues the first time, fix it correctly – perhaps even in advance of a failure – and turn the bay more quickly with the confidence the vehicle won’t return the next day.

I’d like to leave you with this final thought: AI is not some future potential world. It is being put into action today, on the front lines, and it is our job to think ahead about how we want to apply it leveraging the data within our organization to help drive results.

I am looking forward to diving deeper into how AI – and Generative AI specifically – power innovation in our industry. If you are excited about learning more, join our free webinar on June 20th, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., CDT.

Mark Seng is Vice President, Sales & Business Development, at Predii – a Palo Alto, CA-based automotive-focused Artificial Intelligence provider to both OEMs and aftermarket companies. Seng began his career in 1984 and has over 35 years of experience in the global aftermarket business. Before Predii, Seng was the Global Aftermarket Practice Leader for IHS Markit – leading the company’s global aftermarket product development strategy, and Vice President of Aftermarket & Commercial Vehicle Sales for R.L. Polk & Co. Prior to that, he held various positions in distribution, sales, international marketing, and product management for Federal-Mogul. He has earned the Master Automotive Aftermarket Professional designation from Northwood University, served on the Auto Care Association’s Technology Committee, was president of the Automotive Content Professionals Network, and served as a member of the Global Automotive Aftermarket Symposium Program Committee.
June 13, 2023