The long-running campaign to force car manufacturers to share service and repair data with independent workshops is ramping up as the nation heads toward a federal election and as Australia’s competition regulator admits that the voluntary scheme appears to have been ineffective.
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) commissioner Roger Featherston told the 2016 Australian Auto Aftermarket Conference held in Melbourne in late April that the competition watchdog had investigated a number of alleged cases of so-called data blocking that were brought to its attention by the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association (AAAA).
However, Mr Featherston said current laws prevented the ACCC from taking further action and that the voluntary code introduced in late 2014 by the automotive industry “did not appear to be particularly effective”.
“The effectiveness of the code of practice is an issue to be decided by the industry, and ultimately may be a policy decision for the government,” Mr Featherston told the conference.
“The ACCC will continue to look closely at allegations received from the AAAA, particularly if the conduct involves anti-competitive conduct.”
AAAA executive director Stuart Charity said the ACCC’s position added weight to its campaign urging the federal government to review the voluntary code, either beefing it up or going a step further with a mandatory data-sharing system.
He described the voluntary code signed by industry stakeholders in December 2014 a “total failure” and claimed that only one car company had met the full terms of the agreement – GM Holden.
“A handful of other manufacturers have made some repair and service data available via portals, while the rest have ignored the agreement entirely,” he said.
“The federal government optimism for this voluntary process was badly misplaced. The failure of almost all vehicle manufacturers to meet the terms of this agreement is particularly disappointing given the same companies currently share this data with independent workshops in America, Canada and Europe.”
Mr Charity said the AAAA would join independent operators during the federal election campaign to “vigorously advocate” for mandatary data sharing, with workshop owners hosting meetings with their local federal members of parliament to explain their situation.
He said the AAAA’s ‘incident report portal’ launched in July last year provided evidence and case studies of the problems faced by independent workshops when trying to access technical information from car companies.
Consumers in regional Australia who live long distances from manufacturers’ dealerships were also being unfairly disadvantaged, he said.
“Independent workshops are calling on the federal government to urgently resolve this issue. While automotive technology becomes more complex every day, the solution to technical data sharing remains simple,” he said.
“The federal government must introduce a ‘national automotive repair and servicing portal’. As is done overseas, the costs of the portal will be borne by the industry.”
The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), which represents the car manufacturers in Australia, said it was upgrading the voluntary system with a significant increase in available data.
The AAAA has been pushing its case in Canberra this year with all major political parties and key independents and has urged Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Small Business Kelly O’Dwyer to conduct an urgent review of the data-sharing system.
It has received statements of support from the Labor opposition and The Greens, along with Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party Senator Ricky Muir and Tasmanian Liberal Senator David Bushby.
Senator Bushby recently met with independent workshop owners in Hobart and acknowledged their role in providing consumer choice and competition in the marketplace.
“It makes sense that car companies operating in Australia share the essential technical data required to maintain and repair modern cars, just as they do in other markets around the world,” he said.
Senator Muir met with 25 independent repairers in Gippsland, Victoria, earlier this year and reaffirmed his commitment to introducing a private member’s bill and “push to fix this issue by introducing a mandatory code like what is in place in Europe and the US”.
“I got to hear firsthand, from independent repairers, issues which they have had surrounding access to service and repair data. It is very clear that the voluntary agreement currently in place is ineffective,” he said.
Former federal treasurer and now member of the Labor opposition Wayne Swan has also visited repairers in his Queensland electorate in north-eastern Brisbane.
He subsequently told parliament that the federal government “must act immediately to ensure motor vehicle manufacturers comply with the existing voluntary code of conduct and investigate what is needed to implement a mandatory code of conduct or a Right to Repair Act”.