NEGOTIATIONS to establish a voluntary Code of Practice for the sharing of vehicle service and repair data between car companies and independent repairers are back on track and could conclude as early as next week.
If an agreement is reached, a system enabling repairers to access information and tools previously exclusive to main dealers might be available within three or four months.
The development marks a quick turnaround following following last month’s breakdown of negotiations – and ensuing media frenzy – that led to an intervention from Federal Small Business Minister Bruce Billson, who chaired a roundtable meeting of stakeholders on October 30.
VASA eNews understands that an original plan to create a detailed CoP covering all angles was dumped some time ago in favour of a simpler Heads of Agreement document outlining the framework and key principles to be covered under the data sharing agreement.
The aim is to enable independent repairers to access the information required to service and repair modern vehicles at a reasonable price and under reasonable terms, backed up by a resolution and mediation process for repairers that believe they have not been provided with enough information and a review process ensuring the data sharing agreement is operating as it should.
At the negotiating table are the Australian Automobile Association (AAA), Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association (AAAA), Australian Automotive Dealer Association, Australian Motor Industry Federation (AMIF), Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) and Victorian Automotive Chamber of Commerce (VACC).
The differing organisational structures, operating methods and industry sectors represented among the stakeholders is behind the decision to switch from the original single CoP plan to the current HoA model.
Minister Billson said the roundtable resulted in an agreement of “an action plan to finalise principles on the sharing of information and technical specifications”.
“This will ensure the implementation of a competitive and transparent vehicle sales and service system for all Australian motorists.”
A revised HoA document that provides the rules of engagement between industry bodies has been circulated in draft format and includes a “strengthened focus on motorists having information about their servicing options” designed to place consumer interests at the centre of CoP negotiations.
The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission and Federal Treasury both have input to the new HoA, after which each industry association will have responsibility for developing its own way of bringing the agreement into operation within the industry sectors it represents.
It is understood that the FCAI has agreed to withdraw the CoP it released last month – an action that prompted the recent furore as the document was not seen as satisfying the needs of independent repairers or consumers – and update it to reflect the data sharing provisions outlined in the HoA.
Whether other stakeholders produce their own CoP remains to be seen. The AADA seems set to do so but as the AAA represents consumers it is more likely to inform members of their rights under the HoA than administer the sharing of information.
“The positive and constructive discussions held [at the meeting] showed a shared commitment to resolving contentious industry issues. I was encouraged by each peak body’s preparedness to move promptly,” said Minister Billson.
AAAA executive director Stuart Charity said the AAAA welcomed the Minister’s intervention “to get negotiations for an industry wide agreement to facilitate the sharing of repair and service data back on track”.
Describing the CoP negotiations as “a consumer rights issue with an industry solution,” VACC executive director David Purchase warned that the Federal Government “will have every right to step in and determine the outcome” if the issue is not resolved, a scenario that could have “unintended consequences”.
AMIF CEO Richard Dudley said he “firmly believes that discussions with all stakeholders should continue with a view to securing a satisfactory outcome for consumers, manufacturers, dealers and independent repairers”.
If the negotiations fail again, Minister Billson could be forced to mandate a CoP or prescribe a voluntary CoP.
How it came to this
As reported by VASA eNews at the time, on October 16 the AAAA (representing the aftermarket industry and instigator of the Choice of Repairer campaign) criticised the FCAI (which represents car makers and importers) for “scuttling” CoP negotiations by releasing its own Code.
The AAAA said the FCAI’s “unilateral” code was not much different to the document that was rejected by all other stakeholders in March (as VASA eNews exclusively reported at the time and was followed up in the April edition of Hot Air).
This led to a war of words, with the flames of disagreement fanned by a series of mainstream media reports on the subject.
The FCAI and AADA (which represents car dealers) issued a joint press release on October 17, the AAA (which represents motorists) weighed in on October 20 and the VACC and AMIF (representing the automotive repair, service and retail sectors) entered the fray on October 22 with a joint call for the industry to reunite and “agree on a sensible way forward”.
In their joint press release the FCAI and AADA claimed they were “the only organisations that appear to be making progress on this matter”.
“Our commitment to this process and to consumers still stands, and was openly demonstrated by the release of our Code,” said the statement.
“We encourage the other industry associations to follow the FCAI lead in a timely manner, as it is now 23 months since the release of the 2012 Commonwealth Consumer Affairs Advisory Council review and we question why there is a delay from other industry associations.”
The AAA responded with a statement expressing “deep concern that car brands and their franchised dealers have walked away from a consultation process and launched a code of practice which will be detrimental to consumers”.
AAA Chief Executive Andrew McKellar said the FCAI’s CoP “demonstrates a level of arrogance and contempt for the interests of consumers”.
“The decision to proceed with the release of a Code while efforts were still underway to resolve a broader agreement with consumers and other stakeholders represents a serious breach of faith.”
The AMIF and VACC said the FCAI’s code “falls short of what is required to secure agreement between all the parties”.
Mr Purchase said negotiators must “put self-promotion to one side, unite and strive for an industry-led Code”.