Automakers are shutting down the aftermarket out of ECUs

Illustration by Ben Someril-Yodi / Paradox Fox

Last month, Ed Krens, chief engineer for the S650 Mustang, assured Ford that tuning the upcoming pony car would be “much more difficult” than tuning the outgoing S550. This is the result of increased cybersecurity measures put into Ford’s new All-Network Vehicle (FNV) architecture, which underpins the seventh generation of the Mustang. R&T Meet with industry leaders ProCharger and HP Tuners during SEMA 2022 to discuss what this change means for Mustang customers, as well as the aftermarket as a whole.

As our cars begin to integrate more complex systems such as advanced driver assistance systems and over-the-air updates, automakers are weary of what potential bad actors can access by hacking. Whether these hacks come in an effort to retrieve personal customer data, or to control certain aspects of these integrated vehicles, automakers want no part of this equation to be left unchecked.

“I think there are very specific reasons why OEMs are taking crypto more seriously,” said Eddie Shaw, director of marketing for HP Tuners. R&T. “There is personal data on the vehicles, and there are more considerations now than just the ECUs that control the engine. Everything is involved.”

2024 Ford Mustang GT

Andy Headrick

In order to prevent this from becoming a potential security or legal issue, companies like Ford have moved to heavily encrypt their car software. Krenz specifically noted that the new FNV architecture can detect when someone tries to modify any of the vehicle’s coding, and that it can respond by shutting down the individual vehicle’s system or vehicle completely if that is desired. This type of total lock presents an interesting challenge for tuners who rely on access to things like engine and transmission control units to create their products.

This acknowledgment from a Ford official isn’t the first time an automaker has moved to restrict people from tuning into a popular enthusiast product. Nissan initially claimed that the R35 GT-R featured an impenetrable aftermarket electronic control unit, which Cobb Tuning managed to overtake in 2008. The car has since become one of the crown jewels in the aftermarket industry. Dodge also made headlines earlier this month when CEO Tim Kuniskis told reporters that the automaker would take a similar approach to tuning in the age of electric cars. More specifically, Dodge intends to shut down the ECUs on upcoming electric muscle car shows, though it will offer performance upgrades via its own over-the-air network.

2024 Ford Mustang GT

Andy Headrick

“We don’t want to lock up cars and say you can’t modify them,” Dodge CEO Kuniskis told Carscoops. “We just want to lock them in and say adjust them by us so we know it’s done right.”

Notably, GM recently did the same with the C8 Corvette, which is powered by the company’s global electronics architecture. Corvette chief engineer Tadge Juechter even notes that GM intends to make the car as hack-resistant as possible regardless of aftermarket concerns.

“The aftermarket crew is very talented and resourceful,” Juechter said in an interview with Muscle Cars and Trucks. “They’ve been for years. So our business model doesn’t really cater to the aftermarket, we have to do all things internally between Corvette just like any other GM product. Our desire is to make the vehicle as hack-resistant as possible to protect our customers.”

While tuners from all over the country have started rolling out many forced-induction packages for the mid-engine sports car, the majority of these kits rely on back-up ECUs and additional computers to trick the factory ECU. That’s not the case for ProCharger, which managed to hack GM’s firewall after two full years of development and engineering work. The company is now offering a factory-tuned PCM bellows assembly for the Stingray hardtop, while work is underway on a convertible offering with a modified packaging.

Corvette Procharger C8 Blower Pack


Eric Radzens, director of communications and calibration for the parent company of ProCharger Accessible Technologies, said, R&T That the team also initially tried using backpack boxes for their C8 package, but in the end didn’t feel they could rely on the cars with confidence without full access to the ECU. A similar situation could exist in a Mustang store if their encryption levels were similar. Radzin also noted that the data obtained from the LT2 V-8’s ECU was not very different from the data provided by the LT1 V-8 engine in the Corvette C7. This made the power-making process on the dyno relatively straightforward once the team could start messing around. Given that the S650 will adopt an updated version of the Coyote’s 5.0-liter V-8, the tuners for that platform will likely be in store for a similar result. The hack of GM’s ECU firewall proved to be only the first step in the ProCharger process, with a lot of time ultimately spent getting the different units to talk to each other under a tighter electronic architecture.

“What we thought would be easy on the ECU side turned out to be months and months and months of connectivity in the driver experience,” Radzin said. “Having the TCU and ECU talking to each other to make sure the shifts were on time and perfectly. To make sure the car was moving with meaning, making sure it wasn’t dirty and all that. It now has a fully custom OS in it. It runs a three-bar map So the ECU can understand the boost.The ECU can also see the inlet air temperature as well as the charging temperature, so we know the efficiency of the intercooler at all times.There is also a fan control element to handle the intercooler cooling, which didn’t It was something we could do before because we had no control over it.”

2024 Ford Mustang GT

Andy Headrick

Radzins thinks the aftermarket will inevitably make its way after Ford’s attempts to curb the Mustang, just as it did with the C8. However, C8 demonstrated that these coding methods can lead to longer delays in batch availability, as well as increased development costs for the tuning companies themselves. This investment must be returned through a shift in the aftermarket pricing model.

“I’m just going to say things are getting more complicated,” Shaw said. “Over time as systems and vehicles become more complex, the outcome of what companies like us have to do in order to get access to them becomes more complex, and we see that reflected in engineering time, development time and final cost.”

Xu further noted that some customers have been surprised to see price increases across the industry, but sympathize with the fact that they may not be aware of the increased complexity involved in tuning companies. Xu also shares Radzins’ belief that the demand for aftermarket products will entice companies to find ways to work around cybersecurity measures intended for platforms like the Mustang.

2024 Ford Mustang GT

Andy Headrick

“Ultimately, the aftermarket is going to want to do things,” Shaw said. “Customer demand is there and they want to take these cars and make them faster or change them in any way to customize them according to their uses. We will find solutions, you will also find different companies with different standards for the types of solutions they offer. We pride ourselves on having the complete solution, where you can do whatever you want to do.” There are no limited bandages or things like that. We try to avoid these things.”

One of the advantages of the Mustang platform has always been the amount of performance and potential for improvement it offers for the money. The tuners obviously have financial concerns about the platform being closed, but most are willing to work with automakers to find some kind of space to work within.

“My first car was a Mustang and I just love it,” Radzin said. “I think it’s a great car. I was a little sad when Ford said they were going to shut it down because I’ve always felt like one of the reasons so many people bought a Mustang, even if they weren’t the ones to modify it, maybe their dad or their buddies would. The whole point of the Mustang was It’s a car that you can buy and then make it exactly how you want it.I get the point of doing this for security purposes but I feel maybe there is a way to lock the body control units and ABS units and things like that without doing it on the engine side.Maybe they can come out firmly at the dealer level Where someone can come and buy the unlocking service.”

2024 Ford Mustang


Ford already offers a number of upgrade packages available at its dealerships via the Ford Performance catalog. These offers even include supercharger bundles and flash tunes for various S550 Mustang models. This practice certainly will not stop with the introduction of the S650 platform. The Ford team already has relationships with companies like Roush, Shelby American and RTR, and it seems clear that the automaker intends to allow those partners access to their encrypted ECUs. Whether or not the automaker is willing to leave profits on the table by opening its software to external tuners is an entirely different challenge to overcome.

“We will cooperate a lot,” Jammoul told Ford. “This is a new way of doing business now, the old way no longer works. So you have to collaborate and maintain flexibility and openness.”

While this collaborative effort works well for companies that have long-standing relationships with OEMs, smaller tuning companies are left out of the equation even if they previously operated in a legal way.

rtr mustang rear canopy

RTR vehicles on Facebook

“Companies like us don’t work to harm anyone,” Radzin said. We’re not trying to steal secrets or anything like that. We do our due diligence to make sure everything we do is safe, emissions compliant, and legal. We are not all here to be evil. I can understand the pressure from the EPA or anyone else, but it would be great to have a bridge where people willing to invest and check all the boxes can highlight what these cars can do when played with the right approach.”

The undercurrent here is that both OEMs and the aftermarket know that tuning will continue, but the question of how this happens has not been resolved. Who gets in and who gets out, who survives transformation and who doesn’t?

2024 Ford Mustang


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