The term ‘right-to-repair’ can be confusing, as the owner of a vehicle generally has the right to repair it. Rather, right-to-repair relates to whether the automaker, also known as the original equipment manufacturer, or OEM, allows independent repair businesses to access the tools and information necessary to carry out those repairs.
For the last 30 years, automakers and independent repair shops have cooperated with each other to ensure fair competition, despite the natural cat/dog relationship between the two. But, with a new wave of right-to-repair laws about to hit the industry, will this balance be broken?
Why is it changing now?
In the US, amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1990 set the precedent for independent repair shops to have access to the information and tools required to repair emissions-related components. But, while automakers eventually agreed to provide any vehicle repair information and tools to third-parties, the legal requirement specifically only covered the emissions-related tools and information. As individual states have the authority to enact additional standards that OEMs operating in that state are required to conform to, when Massachusetts passed a bill mandating right-to-repair in 2012, subsequent publicity led to the US Government quickly passing a near-identical bill that had been sitting dormant in Congress for over a decade.
Similar legislation to ensure third-party access to repair and maintenance info was enacted in Europe in 2007. However, the repair shops in the US and Europe widely believe that telematics give OEMs an unfair advantage, as the systems transmit vehicle data to OEM’s servers, providing services to customers and offering OEMs insights into the vehicle’s usage, health, and repair information.
Massachusetts effectively drove federal law, and is likely to remain a strong influencer on laws related to right-to-repair. The state recently proposed an update to right-to-repair legislation that would require OEMs to provide the car owner, or owner-approved third-parties, with access to all telematics data and remote commands, such as remote engine start, through a location-independent, mobile-accessible interface. However, the proposed law does allow OEMs to restrict direct access if, and this is highly unlikely, every OEM that sells vehicles in that state collectively agrees to store their data on a central, neutral server that is not controlled or managed by any OEM. Furthermore, for all vehicles, regardless of remote connectivity, vehicle diagnostic and repair data must be accessible via the OBD II port or another standardized interface in the vehicle.
This law is proposed to go into effect for 2022 model year vehicles, which gives most OEMs a little over two years to comply with this legislation. While this is a clear win for independent repairers, implementing the necessary changes could prove to be extremely difficult for OEMs. Although this law will only apply to Massachusetts, it is likely that manufacturers will choose to extend these changes to the remaining 49 states, as it will simplify their vehicle design and business model, as well as help to future-proof them if the Massachusetts bill once again inspires the federal government to roll out a similar law nationwide. While this is possible, SBD would expect this to occur only after the industry and government have had some time to reflect on the changes imposed by Massachusetts.
The conversation around fair vehicle data access in the EU has been intensifying in recent years, with several interest groups making strong arguments in favor of both the OEMs and the independent shops, and the Massachusetts law could have a significant effect on this too. Several OEMs, including BMW and Mercedes-Benz, have already implemented their own forms of ‘neutral servers’, although the neutrality has been questioned by some since the OEMs still control direct access to the vehicle. This hybrid approach is referred to as NEVADA (Neutral Extended Vehicle for Advanced Data Access) by the German OEM association, VDA.
“OEMs that have fully embraced vehicle connectivity and data transport will be able to pivot easily to meet the requirements of future vehicle data access legislation, whereas those that have a more limited capability will likely find the changes more taxing” says Robert Fisher, Technical Manager at SBD Automotive’s Munich office. “However, it is the impact to the business model that will be more challenging for most, as it will require OEMs to rethink how to generate revenue from their connected services and protect the revenue that their service centres rely on.”