Many receive advice, only the wise profit from it. – Harper Lee

To this day I remember the headlines and photos in Mechanics Illustrated showing cars that rocketed throughout space from one space port to the next. Then there were the cars that would turn magically into airplanes or boats. Thanks to the Amphicar, at least one came to be!

Go forward in time. I am in a high school class of an English teacher who was a science fiction fanatic. At the same time, I think he had a bit of concern that the world would one day be at the hands of tyrant leaders. We read books like 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and others. As one looks around today, seems too much of all this has come true!

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. – Ben Franklin

OK, by now you are wondering why I wandered so far off of the farm. There actually is a connection then and today. The predictions relative to the culture, politics and more by the authors mentioned came true at varying levels, but not completely. We do have cameras filming our public activities. There have been serious discussions of using microscopic implanted RFID chips in children in order to find kids in distress. For a real revelation, just head out to the airport to catch a flight!

And, the vehicle predictions have come true in some regards. For example, we have built-in tracking services sold to provide urgent care, instructions and more. Under the hood we are quickly moving towards single control modules that provide for stopping, parking and more. Entertainment centers that could keep even a teenager busy. And now, self-driving vehicles! OK, our vehicles don’t yet rocket to our spaceport, but I never thought I would see this in my lifetime.

Never make predictions, especially about the future. – Casey Stengel

After interviewing some engineers and completing a pretty extensive review of available literature, if one looks 10 to 20 years out, it seems we will likely see:

• Virtual reality with intelligent driving systems

• So called smart cities with sensors and power in the streets

• Additional connectivity, including WIFI and access to cloud based data, libraries and information

• Autonomous vehicles

• Traffic jam assistance

• Vehicle-to-vehicle technology

• Further development of alternative fuels such as hydrogen, perfection of EV and hybrid systems

• Hazard avoidance systems evolving and spreading

All of my years in automotive research taught me a couple of basic facts. To the part purchaser, perception is reality. Moreover, in this instance, if enough of the right engineers, business leaders and others are saying the sky is actually green, it is green, facts maybe notwithstanding.

For example, many say autonomous vehicles are an impossibility. Well, you may want to explain that to Tesla, Google/Waymo, Uber, every carmaker, engineers, insurance companies and others, because they are pouring billions of dollars and untold hours into this project. Most already have active vehicles in a variety of markets.

Today’s vehicles have 100M+ lines of [computer] code, more than 10 times the amount in a 787 Dreamliner  – National Underwriter Property 360

At this point I suspect more than one of us is shrugging our shoulders and asking why this is important to us now? It’s all in the future! Again, the answers are pretty simple:

• While we may well retire or sell our shops and we’re just trying to hang around long enough, we may have children, siblings or key employees who would like to continue the business. Or, could be your buyer wants to stay in business. The bottom line to you is that an active, successful business is always worth more than one that is failing when it comes time to sell. Not paying attention may well leave them in a position where they cannot compete.
• Having talked with a very small group (fortunately) who have had issues with some expensive electronic component or powertrain item while working on something completely unrelated, they tell labor claim and comeback horror stories. The lesson is that we may choose not to work on this technology, but we best understand it before we make what may be a very expensive mistake.
• If we have learned anything, advanced technology will keep our customer’s new vehicles a lot closer to the selling dealer for a lot longer. One need not look far to see what happens when a shop doesn’t upgrade equipment or learn and train new technology. There are a lot of old vehicles sitting in the lot waiting for work. That’s an issue because those vehicle owners tend to look for deals in order to get by, and the vehicle value is such that you will quickly reach the maximum amount they are willing to pay for a major repair. In preparing this article I read many studies and reports talking about and predicting a further shrinkage in the market share held by independent shops directly relative to the increase in technology.

That is over-the air (OTA) networked updating of cars. And it will probably end up in the majority of cars within the next 5 to 10 years, pundits say. – Network World by IDG referencing a recent prediction by Elon Musk of Tesla

It is totally fascinating to me that the same technology we love and use in our own vehicles is simultaneously spelling the possible doom of our business! That is the definition of bitter-sweet.

So, what’s the answer for ourselves and our shops? It’s really quite painless for now. Beginning now, subscribe to print or email technology magazines and sites, read the industry manufacturing publications, and just become a sponge. Scour every edition of Undercar Digest and be sure to read the technology and how-to materials, and attend automotive trade shows.
While you’re at it, if you are fortunate enough to be near where any of the automotive technology conferences are being held, attend. Don’t miss the appropriate classes.

I also set up internet searches using key words targeted to gather all of the daily information coming out. All of the major browsers offer some version of this. Lastly, I make it a point to talk with people in the industry. Think of the people in your circle who could be of great help:

• Your shop equipment dealer(s)
• The local tech school instructors
• Your part suppliers and the manufacturers

Do all of this for the next six months. Then, begin a plan outline based on what you are learning. This truly is a draft. It is continually needing a review and also needs to change with the quickly shifting technology. Write it in pencil and carry a big eraser! Just think about someone who placed their business bet on the rocket cars and prepared for that before it came to fruition. Much of what we read today is correct, some isn’t. Don’t bet the farm until it’s time.

Remember, there are things all but certain to come about. Much technology starts in the more expensive vehicles, and migrates into the lower rungs over time. That should be considered likely to drive a short-term need. Then there’s mid-term. Technician become aware of the technology on a high-end vehicle during a test drive after routine service, such as an oil change or a brake job. Finally, there is the long term. Hard telling right now where it’s headed. One can bet there are changes in the wind, such as autonomous vehicles that will come to be just based on the money and people behind them. However, their final form and operation is yet to be determined.
With that in mind, here are some of the things to include in your draft plan:

• People – what training do they need to handle the technology we already have today? And, what will you do to train, and how big a budget is possibly needed for what is short term and mid-term technology?

• Equipment – same as the people. If you don’t have the proper equipment to deal with hybrids, for example, now’s the time. Seems ridiculous, but I have been in a few shops where this is the case. Generally speaking, due to lack of knowledge, everyone is afraid of the technology and that big battery pack looming below. Then, based on your learning, what do you need in the short term and mid-term and where will you get it?
• Facility – same idea.
There's only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that's your own self.  – Aldous Huxley
The future of technology is out of our control. We ignore technology at our own peril. However, our reaction and planning for how we and our shops deal with these changes is in our hands. Remember, predictions leveled by great authors and made in the movies and things as simple as cartoons came true. Some of it.
Now is a time for learning, understanding and watching as we see new technology unfold before our eyes. As one song put it, the future is so bright we need sunglasses. But, we must grab hold with enthusiasm, not dread.