@ March 8
OEM EXECS AT NASTF SPRING MEETING
Toyota, Subaru and General Motors executives are the early confirmations for OEM participation in the March 8 General Meeting for the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF). The meeting is a guest event to be held during the popular VISION Hi-Tech Training and Expo in Overland Park, Kansas. Several other OEM service operation support divisions have indicated their possible attendance and the NASTF meeting agenda will include new participants as they are confirmed.
“NASTF plays a unique role in the automotive industry as the contact point between independent technicians and service operation support executives inside each of the original equipment automobile manufacturers (OEMs)”, says Skip Potter, Executive Director of NASTF. “Our General Meetings provide the opportunity for shop owners, their technicians and service writers to engage, face-to-face, in productive conversations with OEM service support representatives concerning OEM service resources.
Mark Saxonberg, Alternative Fuel Vehicles, Environment & Industry Relations Manager for Toyota; Kelly Geist, Service Engineering Manager for Subaru; and Bob Stewart, Aftermarket Service Support for GM will participate in presentations and panel discussions that will make up the NASTF General Meeting Agenda.
THE FIRST FASTEST AMERICAN MECHANIC
Leonard Wood, pictured here, will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame February 8 and is seen signing a pair of Mechanix Wear Patriot Edition work gloves expressly for a lucky NASTF technician. Techs who are registered in the free NASTF database and who have chosen "Leonard Wood Glove Drawing" in their "Interest" profile together with techs who drop their entry in the contest box during the VISION2013 expo will be eligible to win the March 11, 2013 drawing. (Video: Who is Leonard Wood?) ... MORE
TOOLS THAT TIME-OUT
Recently NASTF posed a question to techs on iATN asking what question they may have for an OEM executive overseeing non-franchise service programs. This month’s question comes from a tech in Farmington, Arkansas who says “I would like to see the "timing out" of your current scan tool software go away.”
To first clarify this issue, most, but not all, OEM scan tool hardware is not operable without software which only operates during a valid subscription period. Furthermore, most recent releases of OEM scan tools are PC-based software applications and not exclusive on the host hardware.
Another tech’s iATN comment added that his laptop doesn’t quit working when Microsoft decides to end support for his old software. Another notes that you can still read your old magazines after the subscription runs out. So why should tools time-out?
NASTF Chairman Charlie Gorman (Executive Director of the Equipment & Tool Institute) and Tool Committee Co-Chairs Donny Seyfer (Instructor and owner and tech at Seyfer Automotive) and Greg Potter (Director - Auto & HD at DG Technologies) speculate that these subscription-enabled tools may reflect an OEM business strategy. That strategy may be meant to recapture development and update costs in the tools as well as to address the technical and liability issues related to servicing older vehicles with outdated software.
Several NASTF OEM partners were anxious to help with this question but stress to us that their commentary is offered as personal insight, not as official automaker position.
As noted in the introduction of this question, not all hardware is currently tied to the expiration date of the software subscription. Jim Von Ehr, Manager of Technical Info for Nissan North America, tells us that “Nissan diagnostic software has no expiration date. Once the software is purchased, it is downloaded to the OEM CONSULT PC from our website. They own that software version and can use it forever, but if they want new models as they are released, they must purchase an update. These updates are the full software package, not just an update to add the new models.”
Mark Saxonberg, Alternative Fuel Vehicles, Environment & Industry Relations Manager for Toyota, contends that it’s not just about cost recovery for OEMs with subscription-enabled tools. “Using Toyota as an example”, says Mark, ”our current revenue stream from these subscriptions doesn’t even pay for the cost to host, deliver and provide customer support for the website. The price and volume are both too low at current use levels. Toyota’s pricing strategy is intended expressly to make it affordable for any shop and to encourage use by everyone who supports a Toyota/Lexus customer.”
Dennis Blough, Senior Manager of Technical Quality for Suzuki, adds, “Generally speaking, since the costs are finished and all development expense has been recovered by the time the software expires, I don’t know of any OEM who is trying to make a revenue stream by forced expiration dates.
“OEMs spend millions of dollars per year on this software and it needs to be recovered somehow”, Blough continues. There are certainly many costs that go into building and supporting a new product, especially one as technological as today’s vehicle. Whether the cost was isolated into a single subscription or spread across the entire OEM service support, to be sure, it must be included somewhere. If embedded in the original price of the vehicle, Blough suggests “it could actually drive the purchase cost of each vehicle up $5 or $10 on the window sticker. Getting that sold through any car maker would be very tough.”
According to Kurt Immekus, Service Publications Regulatory Specialist at VW/Audi, “Software updates are a reality of the world today. Most OEMs are using or going to a laptop-based platform to eliminate hardware changes that are much more expensive. Every year vehicle complexity increases exponentially and software updates are needed to support those changes.”
Saxonberg sees the pace of change a daily challenge. “In the service information and scan tool software world of 2013”, he says, “the car, the information and the scan tool software are all a moving target and they change on a daily basis. Your subscription ensures that you are always using the latest and that you have the greatest chance of fixing it accurately, quickly and making a profit.”
Blough believes the time-out subscription strategy is used by OEMs to ensure the technician knows to update their software. "Factory engineers”, he warns, “make minor changes and enhancements to settings; and the calibration files and diagnostic software is changed from version to version so it is VERY IMPORTANT that the CURRENT SOFTWARE be used. I can’t begin to tell you how many times in the last 6 years here at Suzuki I have seen a technician chase difficulties because he simply was using an older version of the diagnostic software. TPMS, Adaptive Cruise Control, Telematics, many of these new on board options require the absolute latest files for correct diagnosis and repair. Any technician who wants to use older software is going to risk errors and significant wasted time in re-work.”
Saxonberg suggests that the analogy to Microsoft software that does not time-out is not the same issue as we have with scan tools. “I think a better comparison would be to Turbo Tax software. The 2012 Turbo tax software bought last year worked fine on your 2011 taxes. You could use it again for your 2012 taxes but you are not likely to create an accurate tax return. If you want an accurate 2012 return, you have to re-subscribe to the 2013 version.”
Seyfer believes the OEMs would sell more tools if the long-term usefulness of the tool was not dependent on the software subscription. But perhaps the term tool is already changing to mean software rather than meaning a piece of hardware with software installed on it.
“I am a strong advocate of PC based diagnostic tools” says Blough. “It saves the technician money as one tool would work on several or all vehicle brands. Techs should be much more familiar with the use of their own PC as they will use it for other functions within the shop or dealership or in day to day life. Durability is adequate and cost is dropping every year for a quality PC. Think about the expense of buying one of the old Allen scopes or a SUN scope, plus the cost of a 4 gas analyzer, the care and feeding to keep them running for years and years, maintenance agreements, cables, upkeep and then look at the actual revenue dollars you made. Back then these were state of the art, and we all made money with them. Nothing has changed except the $25,000 scope now costs $10,000 and instead of being half the size of the vehicle it is the size of a small toaster. We all need to work together to lower these costs. Software that lasts forever and doesn’t expire is not the feasible answer because old software is VERY DANGEROUS. Technicians should accept the need and value of ensuring they are using ONLY the latest versions of the software and not reading last month’s edition a second time.
“Today”, continues Blough, “we need a PC with software updated weekly, monthly or at some frequency that is not annoying to everyone involved... We OEMs may find a standard methodology to provide a no cost or very low cost, pain-free software support system that ensures the technicians have frequent updates and always use the current most up to date software AND NOTHING ELSE.”
The NASTF Tool Matrix lists OEM scan tools with an indication if a subscription is necessary to maintain operation. While many aftermarket tools do not time-out, change to the subscription-enabled model may be at hand. Tool manufacturing will have a hard time spreading costs across hardware sales if future tools become more and more based in laptops that the techs already own.
Do you have a good question for the NASTF OEM Contacts? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
VEHICLE SECURITY PROFESSIONAL REGISTRY
The NASTF VSP Registry is a secure online database of auto technicians and locksmiths. As of December 31, 2012 there were 1,421 individuals in the Registry who have passed a background check and who hold a paid subscription for an LSID, giving them 24/7 access to participating OEM vehicle security websites. For the year 2012, NASTF VSPs logged a total of 376,155 transactions which are sold to them by the OEM and recorded with the National Insurance Crime Bureau. To view a graphic depicting the operation of the VSP Registry, click here.
David Lowell is the NASTF Director of Vehicle Security Programs and can be reached in his Dallas, TX office via email to email@example.com.
SERVICE INFORMATION REQUESTS
For the full year of 2012 NASTF processed 57 Service Information Requests from technicians. There were many more email questions that did not qualify for an SIR filing but which still needed NASTF's contact with the OEMs or the NASTF Service Information Review Subcommittee to resolve. To read SIRs in the NASTF archive, click here.
ON MY MIND
by Skip Potter, NASTF Executive Director
NASTF was founded on the principle that gaps exist between what resources franchise car dealers have for servicing vehicles and what the independent shop has for servicing those same vehicles. The common assumption and always the focus of the NASTF effort has been that the car dealer has more because they have the direct support of their OEM, the auto manufacturer. The 500+ NASTF Service Information Requests (www.nastf.org/FileSIR) handled since 2004 is evidence there has been lots of work done by NASTF and the OEMs to close those gaps.
But what about the gaps that exist because the independent shop doesn't measure up or can't keep up in this sophisticated and fast-advancing technical business. Longtime NASTF volunteer, Mark Saxonberg, Alternative Fuel Vehicles, Environment & Industry Relations Manager for Toyota will lead a session dealing with this gap on March 8 at the 2013 Spring General Meeting held in conjunction with the 2013 VISION Hi-Tech Training & Expo. "At the very least", says Saxonberg, "the aftermarket needs a set of guidelines to define service readiness." (Review the full agenda of the March 8 Spring General Meeting HERE.)
NASTF COMMITTEE UPDATE
To learn more about NASTF committees start by visiting www.nastf.org/committees. To join a committee, email firstname.lastname@example.org and indicate the committee that matches your interest.
Service Information Committee -The SIC has scheduled a conference call for mid-February to review performance of the SIR process and to discuss with NASTF Staff improvements being implemented on the NASTF website. Cick HERE to view the SIC roster.
Vehicle Security Committee - The VSC co-chairs have been busy with NASTF Staff via email and conference calls through the past two months discussing NASTF reorganization with the hiring of a full-time executive director and how that enhances management of the NASTF VSP Registry. While the VSC is not scheduled to meet in-person during the VISION 2013 weekend, a conference call of the full committee is being considered. Click HERE to view the VSC roster.
NASTF BOARD OF DIRECTORS REPORT
NASTF elected Charlie Gorman to serve as Chairman for 2013. Gorman, Executive Director of The Equipment and Tool Institute (ETI) succeeds Ron Pyle, President of ASA who will serve as the 2013 Past Chair of NASTF. Allen Pennebaker, owner of Orinda Motors (Orinda, CA) is the 2013 Vice Chair and Steve Handschuh, Executive Vice President of MEMA continues to serve as NASTF Treasurer/Secretary. Click HERE to view the full list of NASTF Board members.
NASTF IN THE NEWS
Auto Pro Workshop: Thanks Pete Meier for hosting NASTF on the autopro Workshop in Janaury 2013. NASTF Executive Director, Skip Potter, described how to file an SIR, how to get an LSID and spoke about the amazing work of the NASTF committees and our technician outreach initiative. Watch now at autopro/Meet NASTF
Motor Magazine Online: In an article by Bob Chabot titled Clean Slate, It's Time to Rethink Vehicle Security, Chabot investigates trends in vehicle security from today's systems created as add-ons to new evolutions that will be security-minded from the beginning. Read it HERE.
NASTF ON THE ROAD
While the NASTF mission is very narrowly focused on "identifying and closing gaps in service informaiton, tools and education" that exist between franchise car dealers and independent service technicians, we must recognize that other industry organizations are likely concerned with these same issues. Many solutions, in fact, may be better addressed by another organization so NASTF maintains open dialog and partnerships to ensure we are not dulicating effort and wasting scarce human and financial resources. Towards that end, NASTF is often "on the road". See the list of events where you will find NASTF in 2013.
NEWS FROM THE NASTF OEMs
MBUSA officially acquired responsibility for the Smart brand from Penske on July 1, 2011. This was effective for the remaining MY11 vehicles to the current Smart models. NASTF can now process SIRs (Service Information Requests) for the Smart Car and lists the Smart brand among the many OEM makes in the NASTF index of OEM service websites.
Honda/Acura announced they now offer two separate websites - ServiceExpress and SIS. ServiceExpress is their original aftermarket website and is available to all users, including Massachusetts. SIS is the dealer website and is now open, in addition, to non-dealer Massachusetts users only. However, they indicate that it is important to understand that both sites contain exactly the same service repair information. The only difference is that SIS has advanced search capabilities.
The subscription fee for SIS is comparable to the fee our dealers pay, which is one of the requirements of the recently signed Massachusetts law. According to Honda, "Because we want to ensure that our information is affordable for everyone, we have decided to continue to offer ServiceExpress as well." ServiceExpress (available to all users, including Massachusetts) subscriptions can be less expensive in some cases that ISIS. Click HERE to view the OEM Tech Site Rate Schedule.
In further Honda/Acura news, key and immobilizer codes are now sold on a per transaction basis and no longer include service information. This is in line with most OEMs.
Their final announcement reveals that the SAE J2534 compliant reprogramming software for Honda and Acura vehicles is now free of charge and can be downloaded directly from their ServiceExpress website. This software, when used with a properly built J2534 pass-thru device, will automatically check for the latest vehicle calibration information. The ECM/PCM is reprogrammable on all 2007 and later Honda and Acura vehicles. In general, Honda does not recommend doing any reprogramming unless it is specifically directed by a Service Bulletin.