The advanced driver-assistance systems that have migrated from luxury vehicles to less expensive mass-market cars have the potential to cause major financial disruption to the dealership service department's traditional business model. If the systems significantly reduce collisions, as predicted, fewer repairs and lower parts revenue could diminish dealership profits.
Advanced driver-assistance technology is designed to prevent accidents. It includes most of the building blocks of tomorrow's self-driving vehicles. Lane-departure warning, automatic braking, blind-spot detection, adaptive cruise control and pedestrian detection are among the features, as well as others that rely on cameras, radar, lidar (which uses lasers and sensors to measure the distance to an object) and a variety of other sensors.
The technology also incorporates older technologies such as antilock brakes, traction control and electric power steering. Eventually, all of these systems will be tied together with powerful computers and software that will enable a car or truck to drive itself safely, without the need for a human driver.
Some vehicles already on the road, such as the Cadillac CT6 that showcases General Motors' Super Cruise system and Tesla's electric vehicles with Autopilot, already can handle braking and steering in some situations, though human drivers still remain responsible for vehicle operations at all times.
Nearly every new vehicle has at least one advanced driver-assist feature. Research company Gartner estimates that as many as 250 million vehicles with such features will be operating throughout the world next year.
Still, the average age of the 276 million cars and trucks on America's roads is a record 11.8 years and increasing. It will be many years before vehicles equipped with the advanced features are in the majority.
That gives dealership fixed ops directors time to prepare for changes in the vehicle mix. And those changes may eventually hold unique opportunities to win business.
Along the way, though, service departments could see revenue drop for two key reasons.