In a Technology Tsunami, the Time Is Now to Step Up and Protect the Aftermarket’s Future

In a Technology Tsunami, The Time Is Now to Step Up and Protect the Aftermarket’s Future

By Aaron Lowe, senior vice president , Government and Regulatory Affairs, Auto Care Association

Aaron Lowe
Aaron Lowe

The auto care industry is in the midst of a technology tsunami.

Current vehicles on the road today are software-driven computers on wheels, with nearly every aspect of the vehicle controlled by software. Add technologies like Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) technology to the equation, which is found in some capacity on most late-model vehicles, and you have a repair scenario that currently is challenging to today’s technician and is sure to be even more difficult for tomorrow’s. This does not even take into account the expected growth in electric vehicles that will certainly mean further changes to how vehicles are repaired.  

Technology in the automotive aftermarket

We Had an Understanding …

While training today’s and tomorrow’s technician will be key, that is only part of the equation. The shops in which technicians work must also be fully equipped to repair vehicles with advanced technology. For this reason, Auto Care Association and the Coalition for Auto Repair Equality (CARE) successfully fought in 2012 to obtain passage of a law in Massachusetts that mandated the aftermarket’s access to the same service information, tools and software that the manufacturer provides to their franchised dealers so that they can service these high-tech vehicles. That law led to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) being signed by the Auto Care Association, CARE and the vehicle manufacturers’ trade groups, where the car companies agreed to abide by the Massachusetts law, nationwide.

But Will It Be Enough?

Notwithstanding what was a major victory secured by the independent auto care industry nearly a decade ago, technology is advancing and manufacturers are rapidly building measures into their vehicles that impose proprietary restrictions on access to on-board diagnostics systems; and are equipping their vehicles with wireless communication technology capable of sending a vehicle’s diagnostic information directly to the vehicle manufacturer. In short, the victory that the aftermarket won with right to repair in 2012 could, in the very near future, be mitigated if the manufacturer is successful in their efforts to control the diagnostic data generated by the vehicle.  

So, We Took It to the People…

For this reason, the aftermarket went back to Massachusetts in 2020, scoring another major victory when voters in that state approved a ballot initiative by a 75-25 percent margin that required manufacturers to provide owners with control of their repair and diagnostic data. Specifically, it required all vehicles to be equipped with a standardized platform capable of wirelessly communicating the repair diagnostic data to a repair shop of the owner’s choosing. The ballot initiative also prohibited manufacturers from restricting access to the on-board diagnostic port, unless it is done in a standardized manner, across all makes and models.  

The aftermarket’s victory came after strong opposition from the vehicle manufacturers, who spent over $25 million fighting the Massachusetts Right to Repair ballot initiative. However, instead of listening to the voters, who are also their customers, the manufacturers decided to file a lawsuit in federal court seeking to overturn the voter supported law.  

The judge in the court case had stated that he wanted to have a quick verdict and expedited the consideration of the case, holding a trial in June 2021, and promising a decision in August of that year.  However, he has delayed the verdict five times, the last being April 15 when he promised a verdict before July 2.. The delay has been extremely frustrating, leaving the industry to wait for a decision that likely will be appealed by the losing side.    

Give the People What They Want

In the meantime, Auto Care Association and CARE, who spearheaded the Massachusetts Right to Repair effort, are looking to determine if we should move to their states in order to keep the momentum going that was gained through the ballot initiative. The association also continues the positive work that has already been done to demonstrate how data can be directly and cyber-securely accessed by independent shops with authorization from the vehicle’s owner. Such action, we hope, will jump-start implementation efforts once manufacturers decide to halt their fight against competition and work with the repair industry to respond to their customers’ demands for choice on where they have their vehicle serviced. 

On a national level, all of the major trade groups representing the automotive aftermarket, including Auto Care Association, Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA) and the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) are united in supporting legislation HR 6570 (also known as the REPAIR Act) introduced by Rep. Rush, D-Ill., which includes a bi-partisan list of co-sponsors. The bill mirrors the requirements of the Massachusetts ballot initiative and the original right to repair law that was the subject of the MOU with the vehicle manufacturers, thus putting the service information requirements in a national law. The bill would further provide authority for the Federal Trade Commission to pursue other anti-competitive actions taken by manufacturers that prevent the independent aftermarket from repairing motor vehicles.

The Cost of Failure Would Be Catastrophic 

Winning the battle on right to repair, whether on a state or national level, will require the support of the entire industry. As demonstrated by the amount of money that the manufacturers have spent thus far to oppose the Massachusetts law, it is unlikely that they will listen to their customers anytime soon and work toward ensuring a competitive aftermarket.  

Over the past several decades, the aftermarket has flourished due to the fact that given a choice, car owners overwhelmingly choose the independents to meet their repair needs. Therefore, ensuring that car owners are the gatekeeper for their data and not the manufacturers will be key to its survival. It is in everyone’s best interest to get involved to help build support by legislators to support motor vehicle repair legislation.  

Key action items that you can take include:

AAPEX 2022 will be a key place that you can not only get the tools and training on new vehicle technologies, but also see what your Association is doing to ensure your access to vehicle maintenance and repair data. In addition, Joe’s Garage, located in Repair Shop HQ on Level 1 of The Venetian Expo, will have a Right to Repair display and activations. Registration is now open – will you be joining us?

Lowe has been with the Auto Care Association and previously with the Automotive Parts and Accessories Association (APAA) for nearly 40 years. In his most recent role as senior vice president of regulatory and government affairs, Lowe oversees the Auto Care Association’s federal and state legislative and regulatory efforts, which focus on a wide range of environmental, vehicle safety, workplace-health and safety and international trade issues. Most notably, Lowe led Auto Care Association’s successful effort in 2012 to obtain enactment of the Motor Vehicle Right to Repair Act in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

June 13, 2022

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