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Access to data ‘not a war’ between dealers and independents

The struggle to make car manufacturers open up access to service and repair data had been inaccurately described as a battle between franchised dealers and independent repairers, according to a leading industry spokesman.

Franchised dealers were just as much in need of access to data from the brands they do not represent so they can maintain and repair their own used cars and other vehicles owned by their new-car customers, said Geoff Gwilym, executive director of the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce (VACC).

In addition, specialist areas like air-conditioning have for a long time been the preserve of independents, with many franchised dealers regularly relying on these independent workshops for their expertise.

The introduction of R1234yf and other upcoming alternative refrigerants such as R744 will add further complexity to air-con service and will likely increase the reliance of franchised dealers on independent workshops.

Mr Gwilym said it was important that independent workshops also had access to service data because the dealers do rely heavily on specialists for certain jobs, like air-conditioning. 

“When we have an argument around access to repair information, it sounds like an argument only with independent repairers. But lots of dealerships repair other brand vehicles alongside the brand they represent,” Mr Gwilym said.

“I have been in dealerships that do four, five, six or seven different brands and they need the same data as the independent mechanic. So whilst it sometimes looks like a divisive argument between independent repairers and dealerships, I do not see it that way. I think this is an industry-wide issue and dealerships need access to repair information as well. 

“Lots of dealerships have worked very well over the years with independent repairers and there is a symbiotic relationship. They work together and they both need the data to repair the vehicle,” said Mr Gwilym at the VACC’s Industry Awards and Centenary gala.

“Often franchises have an overflow of work, or they have technical problems they can’t solve on cars or they have cars that aren’t part of their brand.

“That’s when they work with independent repairers to get jobs done. That is part of the food chain and it has been there for a long time. It is not an argument about pitting independent repairers against dealerships. They work together now.”

Mr Gwilym was speaking a few days after then-assistant minister to the treasurer, Michael Sukkar, said the Turnbull government of the time regarded access to data as a serious matter.

He told the Autocare 2018 convention in Sydney it was one of the Government’s highest priorities, and that it was working on the design of a mandatory scheme for the sharing of critical repair and service information “with consumers and their choice of repairer”.

The Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association (AAAA) started its Choice of Repairer campaign in 2009 and has faced resistance from the car manufacturers at every step. 

Even when the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, which represents carmakers, was ordered to draw up a data sharing code of conduct, it refused to co-operate with other bodies, including the AAAA, and issued its own unilateral code that left everything within its own discretion. As a result, the Government is now drawing up a mandatory code.

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