Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Saturday, February 24, 2024

Safety Hazard SaaS for Auto Industry Tracks Millions of Cars Under Recall on the Roads 

(Crystal Eye Studio/Shutterstock)

On the roads today are tens of millions of cars – including yours, possibly – that are ticking time bombs.

Since the year 2000, Americans have driven some 63 million cars that were, or still are, in “open recall,” meaning they have an unrepaired manufacturing defect. Beyond posing a public safety hazard, one would think the auto industry and auto sellers, as a matter of public relations and customer loyalty strategy, would do more to assist their customers than send them a recall notice in the mail.

But in fact, car sellers knowingly peddle vehicles under recall – or, if they don’t know, they could easily find out. Between 15 and 20 percent of vehicles at the country’s 20,000 used cars lots are under recall. (Surprisingly, so are roughly 8 percent of new cars at the 18,000 auto dealerships in the U.S.) Another surprise: while it’s illegal to rent cars under recall, there’s no law preventing the resale of cars with known manufacturing defects. In addition, nearly 50 percent of cars under recall proceed unflagged through the service lane at auto dealerships when you take your car in for an oil change or other maintenance and repair. There’s no law requiring your dealer to tell you the car they sold you is defective.

Recall Masters, Laguna Beach, CA, knows facts and figures like these because the two-year-old startup has trained the power of big data analytics on what it believes is a major public safety problem. One of the biggest recall problems: cars installed with Takata airbags – airbags that can explode spontaneously and have killed or maimed hundreds of drivers and passengers with shrapnel from plastic dashboards.

Recall Masters aims to become a widely adopted SaaS to the auto industry, delivering recall tracking data to manufacturers and dealers along with recall support services that dealers can provide to consumers. Today, the company has enlisted more than 1,000 dealerships (such as Toyota of Orange [CA], the second largest Toyota dealership in the country) to pay $795 per month and is, according to CEO Chris Miller, having “hockey stick growth.”

The company hopes that even if car sellers aren’t altruistically motivated to steer drivers clear of defective cars, they’ll adopt Recall Masters as a “safety first” competitive sales and marketing advantage. For example, the company offers a digitized "Don't Drive" and "Stop Sale" recall tracking into its SaaS API and batch processing platforms.

Chris Miller of Recall Masters

“Greater recall awareness helps automakers protect their brand and build trusting relationships between automotive dealers, rental car agencies, fleet operators, auto auctions and consumers,” Miller told EnterpriseTech. “Recalls have been accelerating, so coming up with an integrated solution that provides total recall management across the industry involving the government, the OEMs and the dealers alike has been something very needed in the market.”

Tracking recall status of cars through the lifecycle of vehicle ownership – from manufacturer to dealership to buyer to used car reseller to second owner, and so forth; or from car rental or lease fleet into the open market – is a monumental data analytics task. Recall Masters ingests and analyzes multi-format data from nearly 50 information sources including, as you might expect, federal and state DoTs, and the auto makers. The company’s data lake also includes data from service centers, roadside dispatch companies, tow truck companies, insurance providers, auto loan, banks and other financial services providers, in-car satellite and radio services providers and oil service and tire companies.

Recall Masters also tracks the car repair infrastructure, using crowdsourcing techniques to collect data from auto repair service providers on the availability of parts, the time required to complete a defect under recall and the equipment resources (is the car lift required?) and labor involved.

He said its analytics infrastructure is a standard open source LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP or Python) architecture run on PostgreSQL object-relational database – all of it out on the Amazon Web Services cloud.

Using "digital forensics," the process of culling, processing and aggregating enormous quantities of unstructured recall data, Miller said the company identifies hundreds of thousands of problem vehicles per month while tracking vehicles impacted by the 5,000 recalls issued since 2000 along with information on more than 100 million vehicle owners in the U.S. (he expects to have information on 260 million owners within the next 12 months). In total, the company has processed and monitored approximately 1 billion vehicle transactions.

“We know when everyone has owned a car, when they sold it, where they live now and where they lived previously, their phone numbers, email addresses and cell phone numbers, so we’re very good at tracking people down,” he said. “We gather information from all the various data points, then we do predictive modeling and machine learning that we put together, algorithms that model whether a given VIN (vehicle identification number) has a recall on it or not.”

As part of the service Recall Masters provides dealers, it sends emails, text message and makes outbound phone calls to recalled car owners. “That takes the burden off of the manufacturers and the dealerships. We help them make money through recalled vehicles, resulting in additional vehicle sales” and additional repair revenues. “We help train dealerships…on the best practices to turn this issue, generally perceived as a negative, into a positive.”

Government lawmakers and regulators, along with the auto and car parts makers, have been incredibly lax about public safety, Miller said. Citing the Takata airbag problem, he said half of the recalled vehicles on the road today have Takata airbags, which have killed more than a dozen drivers while injuring hundreds of passengers. In addition, parts required to repair the defective airbags are in short supply.

“They (industry and government) put consumer safety last,” Miller said. “But we tell them, if you start to advertise that you put the customer first, that you’re a safety-oriented dealership in their community, it’s going to bring you more business, not less.”