Why it matters: Automakers have embraced the benefits of living in a connected world, with real-time data transfer and over-the-air updates becoming standard in today’s new vehicles. But with every network connection there is an opportunity for cybercriminals to exploit a security hole. As automakers respond to these evolving threats, aftermarket enthusiasts are finding themselves slowly losing their ability to customize OEM equipment.
Ford Mustang aftermarket enthusiasts will soon find it more difficult to make performance adjustments to their cars thanks to Ford’s new fully networked vehicle architecture (FNV). The electrical architecture, which allows the automaker to provide over-the-air (OTA) updates, is also likely to encrypt the vehicle’s electronic control unit (ECU) in a way that renders previous modification methods ineffective.
The enhanced coding standard is a necessary response to the ever-evolving threat posed by hackers looking for new ways to access a vehicle’s control systems, driver information records or communication and location systems. Unfortunately, the coding also affects the ability of existing aftermarket flash and piggyback tuners to successfully enhance the factory ECU’s input and output signals.
According to Mustang chief engineer Ed Krenz, Ford’s FNV architecture has the ability to detect when a user tries to change one of the vehicle’s programmed signals or coded instructions. Once detected, FNV will take actions ranging from disabling the specific system being modified to disabling the vehicle completely.
Aftermarket tuners and performance enthusiasts have traditionally relied on modifying these signals to maximize the performance of upgraded engine, drivetrain and braking components. The inability to change these signals limits the potential effectiveness of future engine and powertrain component upgrades. No matter how advanced the installed components are, drivers will probably never experience the full potential of their upgrades without the ability to change the specific signal and inputs required for their operation.
Ford has 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, established Ford employees such as Roush Performance and the Shelby Performance Center, it could make research, development, and sales much more expensive (or even out of reach) for smaller, more specialized aftermarket performance shops that don’t have the same reputation and financial support.
Automotive technology will become increasingly faster and more complex, offering more opportunities to interact with the world around us. And the problem of improved safety is not exclusive to Ford alone. There is no doubt that the aftermarket performance industry will evolve and adapt to these changes as it always has, but the increasing complexity and effort required have the potential to seriously reshape the aftermarket performance landscape.