Steve Leal demystifies one of the most vexing industry issues and its ramifications for the aftermarket industry
If you have been following the news and developments taking place across the world, chances are you would’ve come across the term “Right to Repair” more often in recent times than before.
Over the past few years, a great deal of steam has been generated over the “Right to Repair” issue, not only in certain markets but all over the world. Governments are either actively vetoing legislation or approving it unanimously. So, why does this fuss over “Right to Repair” concern you and me?
To put it simply, the “Right to Repair” requires original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to provide consumers and independent repair businesses equal access to repair documentation, diagnostics, tools, service parts and firmware as their direct or authorized repair providers. The movement covers almost every possible industry – from automotive to electronics to industrial tools to farm equipment and even household appliances such as the toaster or vacuum cleaner.
The debate on the “Right to Repair” legislation focuses on two extremely vocal groups caught in the same boxing ring and doesn’t seem like it’s going to end soon. Depending on which side you are on, the “Right to Repair” bill is either a good thing or bad.
In one corner of the ring are the opponents (OEMs) who think that sharing such important information may harm the quality and brand image of their products, may lead to copyright infringements. They also believe that some consumers could end up damaging the product or hurting themselves if they tinkered with them.
In the other corner, the proponents (qualified and amateur repairers, DIY enthusiasts and consumers) argue that OEMs are pursuing a monopolistic strategy aimed at protecting their authorized repairers and forcing customers to shell out exorbitant amounts of money to get their products repaired or replaced. Repairing will also extend the lifespan of the products. They are therefore asking for governments to remove these “digital locks” on the products.
Caught in the crossfire are the governments who are trying to find a solution that is mutually acceptable to both parties. Some governments in Europe and Australia have already passed and implemented the “Right to Repair” legislation while in Canada and the US, the issue has come up before government committees repeatedly with no solution in sight.
For the aftermarket industry, the passage of the legislation will mean vehicle manufacturers and OEMs will have to share critical vehicle- and part-repairing data not only with their authorised dealerships and service centres but also with independent repairers and consumers. The manufacturers fear that this would expose their products to copyright infringement and lead competitors to duplicate their technology developed through years of research and development.
Some environment lobbies opine that repairing the product makes complete ecological sense as fewer products end up in the landfills. In the case of automotive parts, this would mean a significant easing of pressure on the landfills as most vehicle parts are larger in size in comparison to, say, a toaster.
The “Right to Repair” movement has become a global phenomenon. In several US states, beginning in model year 2018, automakers are required to use a standard, non-proprietary interface allowing technicians to access a vehicle’s service data.
The news from Australia is encouraging. Following nearly a decade of campaigning by the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association (AAAA), the government announced plans to introduce a new law that will make it illegal for automobile companies to withhold information from qualified independent mechanics – keeping the cost of replacement parts, vehicle maintenance and repair affordable.
In Canada, not too long ago, the Automotive Industries Association of Canada (AIA Canada) launched the “Your Car Your Data Your Choice” campaign aimed at mobilizing the aftermarket industry spreading awareness about the importance of consumers being able to control access to their vehicle’s data.
The not-for-profit organization is calling on the federal government to acknowledge the importance of vehicle data ownership and says independent shops will be effectively shut out from repairing newer cars without the proper data. Currently, vehicle owners must depend solely on OEM-authorized repairers to perform any critical diagnostics.
AIA’s initiative engages car owners, policymakers, and other stakeholders on issues related to vehicle data, including what it is, why it matters, and its implications for consumer choice. It believes that wireless vehicle data needs to be transparent and shared with the consumer if the aftermarket wishes to remain competitive as global supply chains go digital.
The legislation (popularly known as Bill C-11) will ensure that all vehicle information is personal data and that owners can choose where can they take their vehicles for maintenance and repair. Their position is that access to the right information would mean that repairers can provide “timely, cost-effective, and proper repair for the consumer”.
In my opinion, sharing this critical information with repairers can level the playing field and make the aftermarket industry more competitive. I envision several opportunities for both OEMS and repairers themselves – in their quest to deliver optimum customer satisfaction, repairers do their best to restore every vehicle to their original condition.
It is also important to understand that if the bill is passed, shops need to be adequately prepared to be able to repair connected vehicles. This means investing in the right tools and equipment, as well as training and certification for all its team members. While it is uncertain when the bill will see the light of day, it is encouraging to note that shops are already gearing up.
In the end, what we want is to create an ecosystem that is equitable for all stakeholders – one that addresses the needs of both OEMs and the aftermarket as well as provides transparency to consumers.
Steve Leal is the President & CEO of Fix Network World, the leading global automotive aftermarket services network with over 2,000 points of service worldwide.