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Artificial Intelligence in the aftermarket could be a slippery slope

AI sounds like manna from heaven to listen to the people who sell it, but a number of possibilities need to be considered before we all jump on the AI bandwagon

In our industry, we must look at artificial intelligence in the right light — and in this crazy time we must be careful. As a business application it generally works fine. Used with social media, election campaigns, disasters and the rest it may be dangerous. Whoever controls AI controls what goes in it. If they wish to create social media, for example, they are able to slant the AI output by slanting the AI input. Garbage in equals garbage out.

But in the aftermarket there are already software packages and online programs that are able to help with many things. Here are just a few: predictive maintenance, diagnosis assistance, customer service and marketing, quality control, inventory management, and parts management and restocking.

At a collision repair shop, AI is able to compare a damaged vehicle and write a more accurate estimate, lower supplementals and the creation of a parts and time. In all shops, it’s able to support diagnosis and repair. In some cases Virtual Reality (VR) is used to walk the tech through the entire repair. All of this before they touch the first bolt or screw.

And, AI can predict future needs. In VR, it could have already ordered all of the expected parts needed so they arrive much sooner, speeding repairs.

The OEMs are not missing out either. As one example, Porsche is working with U.P. Partners in a partnership named Sensigo. It will diagnose problems and then resolve them. It will eventually forecast and predict repair issues to the single Porsche vehicle. 

Warehouses and assembly plants are also supposed to see huge productivity gains, while at the same time, better control their inventory. And, as parts are used or sold, AI is already ahead of them ordering whatever is predicted to fill needs.

Many also argue AI helps solve the shortages of techs, manufacturing staff and greatly increase productivity. It doesn’t actually replace frontline people (maybe), but is supposed to make their jobs more productive, easier and less stressful.

Well, that’s all the really great stuff that AI is supposed to do for all of us in the aftermarket. Sounds like manna from Heaven to listen to the people who sell it. But I would like to suggest a number of possibilities that need to be considered before we all jump on the AI bandwagon.

First, there are just a few AI companies. They run the main systems, all of which take a lot of people, money and electrical power, along with sophisticated software and coding. We’re talking in the many billions of dollars. As a result, the company that is selling you the online support is using one of a very few AI providers. 

One of the first, ChatGPT (Open AI) was introduced in 2022. Then there is Microsoft Bing, Meta, Google (Gemini), Deepmind, Amazon, GitHub, Perplexity, Claude, A121 Labs, Stability, Jasper, Midjourney. And with an estimate of this market growing into the trillions of dollars, there is more to follow. At this point you may as well add Tesla/Elon Musk to the list.

Now, let’s assume all of the developers are working with the same pot of info. Is it not possible that any one of these is able to tweak the coding to slant the data coming out? The person calling on you to sell the program is like a WD selling parts. They are dependent on the “Mother Ship” for information and support their coding with it and create an open line for data — our data — to be used for others as well. 

Think of it. As the aftermarket comes online to these AI-enhanced programs are we just providing data for OEMs and their manufacturing partners? Who gets the control over the data — the shop, the jobber/retailers, the WDs, the aftermarket parts makers? Or does it all just accumulate in a big data bin somewhere for parsing by the AI drive engine? The argument will be that the more data, the more accurately predictive models will operate.

If it is all accumulated — needed if AI is to develop enough data for generating all that it is supposed to do — what about the states that just love to tax and have a picture of what we are doing? There is little doubt various government entities who make the rules and the financial decisions would love this.

Lastly, especially at the part’s manufacturing levels, there are entire levels of management that are at risk. Examples are people in marketing/sales, accounting/finance, IT, quality control, engineering, purchasing and so many more. On the plant floor it’s the assembly worker or machinist who is replaced by AI driven machinery.

No doubt there are some very good and worthy things about AI and the industry. At the same time, it is not a human being. In fact, it is designed to replace the human being so that we might spend our days in rest and luxury (again, maybe). Except, who has any money to spend, food to eat or a place to live at that point?

It’s time to slow down. The last time we had a “work revolution” was the Industrial Age and a lot of bad things happened to very good people. When picking any program or service, be careful, and ask lots of questions.

At a young age, industry veteran Tom Langer started detailing cars for his family’s dealerships, which then led to work in the jobber and warehouse business, along with a machine shop and auto body shop. He held a variety of positions with an auto parts manufacturer for 10 years, and remained in the industry working with shops, warehouses and manufacturers in research and more. 

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