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Volvo on Call telematics service still available to Russian Volvo owners -- for now.

Western Vehicles in Russia Denied Software Updates

An industry official says the curtailing of over-the-air updates does not involve safety features but instead involves conveniences such as remote engine starting, which is particularly desirable in the cold Russian climate.

ST. PETERSBURG – Russian owners of vehicles made by Western automakers are encountering limited functionality of applications and services.

An industry official says the limitations on over-the-air updates do not involve safety features but instead involve conveniences such as remote unlocking of car doors and remote engine starting, which is particularly desirable in the cold Russian climate.

Porsche last year became the first foreign automaker to disable some of its cars’ functions in Russia. It has since been joined by Skoda, Kia, Infiniti, Nissan, Renault and Mercedes-Benz.

Early this year, many Western automakers cut off access to their Russian dealers’ service bases, which complicated diagnosing and servicing cars.

In the case of Mercedes-Benz, the company has disconnected Russian drivers from its “me ID” subscription service, which provides functions such as remote engine starting and self-parking. The German automaker has notified Russian owners that no replacement for the service, which was available with most models sold in the country, will be provided.

Russian owners of Mercedes vehicles have come up with a workaround: registering and paying for subscriptions using phones with foreign SIM cards. Industry specialists also are looking for alternative means of access.

Some manufacturers’ applications are still fully functional (such as Volvo On Call [pictured, below] and Land Rover’s InControl), although problems are being reported with foreign cars brought into Russia via parallel import – the so-called gray market.

Another problem for many Russian owners of foreign cars is exclusion from recall campaigns.

Some Russian analysts believe that, although the blocking of applications has some positive aspects (such as the reduced threat of vehicle theft), the practice is setting back the country’s automotive industry by decades.  

According to experts, supplies of auto parts to Russia have generally stabilized in recent months but the same cannot be said of complex electronic components, digital keys and software.

Yang Haytseer, vice president of the National Automobile Union, downplays the Western automakers’ suspension of over-the-air updates, telling a Russian newspaper that the services at issue are meant to provide comfort and convenience for the driver and are not crucial for safety.

Industry analysts, however, expect more functioning applications to be blocked over time as more automakers leave Russia in response to the military situation with Ukraine.

At the same time, according to experts, the demand for hacking in order to update needed service programs is growing significantly. Another option is the purchase of the needed software from friendly countries and dealers. As a rule, that traditionally involves the use of various semi-legal schemes.

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