Every dealership service department knows the situation: A customer's vehicle has an unfamiliar or complicated problem that can't be promptly diagnosed and fixed.
The standard response: time-consuming examination of possibly outdated service manuals, potentially lengthy correspondence with the automaker, even a visit from a factory technician. All the while, the car or truck sits idle in the shop.
But new technologies are speeding the resolution of these problems. Service techs at some Audi and Porsche dealerships can call on a factory tech to join them, virtually.
Through the use of connected devices such as robots at Audi and augmented reality glasses at Porsche, the automakers' specialists enter the service bay via connected cameras and microphones. Their virtual aid means fewer in-person tech visits, shorter work turnarounds and more-satisfied customers.
"Our job is to get out there and support the dealer as quickly as possible," says Jamie Dennis, senior vice president of product quality and technical service at Audi of America.
With the Audi Robotic Telepresence, or ART, system, Dennis told Fixed Ops Journal, "we can be there in minutes to hours."
Audi's system was the first initiative by a North American automaker to connect dealership service bays directly with experts at the company's technical center.
Working with the robotic telepresence company VGo, Audi developed ART — a mobile robot equipped with microphones, cameras and a TV screen.
The system can connect with onboard diagnostic devices in vehicles. It enables experts at Audi's tech center in Auburn Hills, Mich., to see everything the dealership tech does, discuss diagnosis and repair options and link up with the vehicle for software updates.
Audi employs 89 ART robots across its dealership network. When it launched the system in 2014, the automaker was getting about 8,000 dealership calls a month to its service hotline. About 6 percent of those calls led to store visits from factory techs, which could take days to arrange.
By the end of 2017, such in-person visits had fallen by 30 percent, Audi says.
"It's like having an Audi engineer standing there with you," says Rick Fortnam, service manager at Audi Atlanta, which has used ART since 2015.
Fortnam says that with the system, complicated repairs that might previously have taken a week can be turned around in two or three days.
"We do 70 to 80 [service] appointments a day, and I can't give everyone a loaner," Fortnam says. "If ART can save me a day or two, I can turn that car two days faster and get another customer in."