Could Subscription Services & Autonomous Vehicles Solve the Recall Epidemic?

While the struggle to decrease unrepaired recall vehicles on the road continues, new business models and technologies are arriving which could dramatically reduce the problem. Foremost among them are the advancements in autonomous cars, the introduction of subscription services, and over-the-air capabilities. 

How will each of these developments play a role in decreasing unrepaired recalls? Let’s examine this:

Over-the-Air Technology:

This technology already exists and is in use by automaker Tesla. Through over-the-air technology Tesla makes vehicle updates without an owner ever having to visit a service center. From software updates to adjusting suspension, Tesla quickly responds to complaints and, in the event of a recall, in most cases doesn’t need to notify the driver but simply uploads the software update directly to the vehicle.


Of course, there will be times where hardware is affected that requires physical repair. But Tesla isn’t concerned about tracking down its owners as it can simply push notifications out directly to the vehicle’s large computer screen. If Tesla really wanted to, it could probably even disable a vehicle until a recall is repaired by the owner. Tesla is highly protective of its vehicles and its reputation and, more likely than not, will take steps to ensure the safety of any of its vehicles on the road.


While this technology hasn’t yet been adopted by major automakers, the pressure to reduce unrepaired recall vehicles will likely lead to mass adoption -- considering many automakers already have wi-fi and other communication abilities (like OnStar) which could be used.


Subscription Services:

The current move by automakers and some dealers to offer subscription-based consumer models may also reduce unrepaired recalls. Unlike leasing a vehicle, consumers who subscribe to these services never really own it. Ownership is either held by the dealership, or the manufacturer, depending on which path a consumer takes.


Because these vehicles are rotated by consumers, when, for example, a subscriber wants to swap from a sedan to a SUV, or newer model, the dealership or manufacturer has the chance to repair any recalls before allowing a different subscriber to take it. In addition, dealers and manufacturers have a financial interest in each vehicle, since it’s an owned asset. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in addition to regular maintenance, recall repairs become mandatory for subscription service owners. Neither a dealership nor a manufacturer will want to risk devaluation or the loss of any subscription vehicles in their fleet.


Autonomous Vehicles:

While mass adoption of autonomous vehicles is arguably 10-30 years away, vehicle service and/or recall repairs could easily be accomplished without the need for an owner (or subscriber) to do anything, as these vehicles can drive themselves.

Any vehicle in need of repair could go to the dealership for service, while a different autonomous vehicle takes its place for the consumer, providing an efficient way for the consumer to have transportation without the inconvenience of waiting at a dealership.


Autonomous vehicles will also have decision-making abilities by default. These vehicles will know when dangers exist in the exterior world, identify these dangers and take steps to get any needed repair. Combine this with over-the-air capabilities and we may find a world in which recalls, repairs and maintenance are performed without a consumer’s intervention.


While two out of three of these technologies exist right now, there’s no clear understanding how each will affect the level of unrepaired recalls. Consumers are currently skeptical of autonomous vehicles, so it may be some time before the entire picture develops. However, chances are good that, as time passes, sentiment will change. Autonomous technologies could translate into a huge spike in service revenue as dealerships must no longer chase down owners to complete repairs.


Only time will tell how advancements in the auto industry make recall notification and service a thing of the past. I’d love to see unrepaired recalls vanish, both for the safety of those driving affected vehicles, and those sharing the road with them. Until then, our industry needs to remain dedicated to the effort and work past the obstacles we face.


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