HISTORY was made on 15 December 2014 with the signing of an agreement that guarantees Australian independent repairers access to equivalent levels of service and repair information as dealership workshops.
By ensuring the availability of information is not a barrier of entry to the automotive service and repair market, the agreement brings Australia into line with other developed markets like Europe and the United States.
Included in the agreement is an outline of information sharing principles, a governance structure and a dispute resolution process providing a safeguard to consumers.
In light of the increasing uptake of in-vehicle telematics technologies that communicate vehicle use, performance and diagnostics data to workshops, the signatories have also agreed to start developing protocols over who owns access to this information.
Federal Small Business Minister Bruce Billson witnessed the signing of The Agreement on Access to Service and Repair Information for Motor Vehicles, concluding months of sometimes fractious negotiations between the five industry organisations involved.
These comprised 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).
Minister Billson said reaching a consensus between all negotiators was “a significant achievement for the rights of consumers and all automotive businesses, big and small”.
“The signing of this historic Agreement also signals that the considerable challenges of bringing all signatories together in this area of considerable contention has been resolved,” he said.
“My key focus has been to ensure consumers are provided with the right information to make informed decisions when it comes to the repair and servicing of their vehicles. In addition, my aim has been to ensure that repair and servicing businesses are operating across a level playing field.”
The AAAA launched its Choice of Repairer campaign more than five years ago to build government awareness of the issues facing independent workshops struggling to service and repair increasingly complex modern vehicles, related their lack of access to information enjoyed by authorised dealers.
It led to an inquiry by the Commonwealth Consumer Affairs Advisory Council (CCAAC), which concluded that restricting repair information to authorised dealership networks gave vehicle manufacturers the power to reduce competition in the automotive repair industry and limit consumer choice.
AAAA executive director Stuart Charity said he looks forward to working with his colleagues from the signatory organisations “to ensure that the operative provisions of this agreement are fully implemented and communicated to the wider industry”.
He acknowledged Minister Billson’s leadership, crediting him for being “instrumental in the parties ultimately arriving at an outcome that strikes a fair balance between the interests of consumers and the various segments of the automotive industry”.
“While we are only really now at the starting line of a process to ensure consumer choice and a level playing field in the vehicle service and repair market, this is a massive step forward,” said Mr Charity.
The AAA, representing motoring consumers, hailed the agreement “a positive step forward for consumer rights”, with chief executive Andrew McKellar welcoming the outcome as a “first step in ensuring that motorists have the right to choose where they have their vehicle serviced or repaired and have the confidence that it can be done properly”.
“This sends an encouraging indication that the vehicle brands will guarantee to share important information with consumers and independent repairers,” said Mr McKellar.
The FCAI (representing the carmakers and importers) and AADA (representing new car dealers) have long maintained that adequate information is available to independent workshops if they really want it.
Both the AAAA and AAA have criticised the FCAI’s actions during the negotiations, which included twice releasing a Code of Practice document regarded as biased, unfair and not in the interest of consumers.
In welcoming the new information sharing agreement, Mr McKellar referred to this: “We urge the vehicle brands, represented by the FCAI, to act quickly to bring their previous unilateral code of practice into line with the principles of this new agreement.”
The CCAAC recommended that if an effective, industry led outcome was not reached in a reasonable period of time, there could be a case for government intervention – which is why Minister Billson was called in after the FCAI released its second Code of Practice before negotiations had concluded.
Even though the agreement has now been signed, the FCAI and AADA have been less publicly enthusiastic about it than the AAAA and AAA.
The FCAI’s spin on the agreement centres on consumers being better informed about the use of non-genuine parts and refers to the CCAAC report’s conclusion that there was no evidence of consumer detriment with regards to vehicle repair information sharing.
Considerably straighter-talking, the AADA says repair information is currently available to independent repairers “contrary to some misleading claims” and refers to a “misnamed Right to Repair campaign” – a view shared by the FCAI when interviewed by VASA eNews in March last year.
“Whilst some other auto industry associations insist that service and repair information is not available to independent repairers, evidence continues to suggest that it is,” says the AADA.
The AADA also seems to suggest the motivation behind the campaign for enhanced data sharing is not necessarily honourable, such as for example gaining access to “vehicle security data that interacts with computerised control systems”.
AADA chairman Ian Field claims some parties are trying to access sensitive information for their own commercial gain. “What I think they want is the algorithms inside the Engine Management System (EMS) so they can make non-genuine parts compatible with the EMS,” he said.
A valid point made by the AADA is that independent workshops will have to specialise in certain brands, groups of brands that share technology or brands from specific geographical areas.
“Every year the new car fleet increases in complexity and demands better knowledge and equipment. Understandably, most local mechanics don’t have the means to purchase the necessary equipment and information to repair complex one-off vehicles. Instead, specific equipment to service the needs of particular groups of vehicles should be the aim.”
Mr Field pointed out that there are around 7000 makes and models on Australia’s roads. “‘No single independent repairer can service every make and model that exists in the Australian market place, there are just too many,” he said.
It is entirely understandable that the FCAI and AADA are working to protect the interests of their members. Behind their reaction could be some genuine advantages bestowed on the independent sector by the freshly sighed data sharing agreement.
VASA members will be kept updated on progress and the February 2015 edition of Hot Air will contain a detailed feature on what impact the agreement is expected to have from a workshop point of view.