Why it matters: Automakers have taken advantage of living in a connected world when real-time data transmission and wireless updates have become the standard for modern new cars. But with every network connection, cybercriminals can take advantage of a security vulnerability. As automakers respond to these evolving threats, aftermarket enthusiasts are gradually losing the ability to modify OEM equipment.
Ford Mustang aftermarket enthusiasts may soon find it harder to make changes to the performance of their vehicles thanks to Ford’s new fully networked architecture (FNV). The electrical architecture that allows the automaker to deliver updates wirelessly (OTA) will most likely also encrypt the vehicle’s electronic control unit (ECU) in such a way that previous modification methods will become ineffective.
An improved encryption standard is a necessary response to the ever-evolving threat posed by hackers looking for new ways to access vehicle control systems, driver information records or communication and location systems. Unfortunately, encryption also affects the ability of existing aftermarket flash tuners and additional tuners to successfully complement the input and output signals of the factory ECU.
According to Mustang chief engineer Ed Krenz, the Ford FNV architecture is able to detect when a user tries to change any of the car’s programmed signals or encoded instructions. After detection, the FNV will take actions ranging from disabling the specific system being modified to completely disabling the vehicle.
Aftermarket tuners and performance enthusiasts have traditionally relied on changing these signals to maximize the performance of upgraded engine, transmission and brake components. The inability to change these signals limits the potential effectiveness of future engine and transmission component upgrades. No matter how advanced the installed parts may be, drivers will most likely never unlock the full potential of their updates without the ability to change the specific signal and inputs required for their operation.
Ford said it is open to working with third-party tuners to provide the access needed to tune and calibrate upgraded vehicles. While this may bode well for larger, well-established Ford employees like Roush Performance and Shelby Performance Center, it can make research, development and sales much more expensive (or even unattainable) for smaller, more specialized aftermarket workshops that don’t have the same brand awareness and financial support.
Automotive technology will continue to become faster, more complex and provide more opportunities to interact with the outside world. And the problem of enhanced security concerns not only Ford. There is no doubt that the after-sales service industry will evolve and adapt to these changes as it has always done, but the increasing levels of complexity and effort required can seriously change the landscape of after-sales service performance.