A CODE of practice drafted by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) that was supposed to formalise the sharing of vehicle repair and service information has been rejected by the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association (AAAA) and Australian Automobile Association (AAA).
As vehicles become increasingly complex, there is a need to improve consumer choice by enabling independent repairers to bid for more business against the workshops of franchised dealers – as is happening in Europe, the US and Canada – but the code proposed by the FCAI has drawn fierce criticism.
AAAA executive director Stuart Charity told VASA eNews the draft code “will not make one iota of difference on the ground to independent repairers,” and that his organisation has “categorically rejected the code in its current format”.
The AAA’s government relations and communications director James Goodwin had a different take on the draft code, criticising it for having “no mention about the consumer or the customer”.
“This process started from the consumer affairs forum and yet they [FCAI] were ignoring consumer rights, so that is our fundamental objection to the code that has been drafted,” he said.
Mr Charity railed at the code for being voluntary, not binding, inequitable and lacking substance, with “a list of exclusions that run for a page and a half … and virtually no consequences for the OEM if they breach the code”.
“They won’t release service bulletins, software downloads, PIN codes and these are all the information independent repairers need to access to be able to offer a like-for-like service.
“The code is inequitable, the OEM can decide what information is available and at what price with no recourse. It is not practical, there is no facility to cover the provision of data to third-party data providers [such as Autodata] and that is substantial given the complexity of the vehicle car parc and the complexity of vehicles.”
FCAI industry operations director Tony McDonald confirmed that some information relating to safety, security and emissions will be held back under the code to ensure manufacturer obligations are adhered to.
It is up to each OEM to decide how much information is made available and how much it costs, but Mr McDonald said the code stipulates it must fall within a “commercially reasonable price”.
He also said the code proposes the provision of an independent review committee in case someone believes information is being unfairly withheld.
Mr Charity disagreed about the review committee’s independence. “You’ve got a heavily loaded review panel which is basically the car companies and dealers deciding whether any appeal or issue has merit,” he said.
“It goes to a vote and they have got all the votes, so it would be all but impossible for an independent repairer to have a fair hearing under that system.”
The code of practice will be voluntary and will come into force as each company signs up to it, because, according to Mr McDonald, the level of informal data sharing is already “wider than the code envisages”.
VASA eNews understands a lot of information is out there, but it is not easily or readily accessible in a way repairers can realistically manage given time constraints and the diversity of vehicles on the market.
“They [FCAI] seem to be in denial that there is in fact an issue about accessing diagnostic information,” said Mr Charity.
“They’ve developed this code fairly well in isolation rather than industry led with wide stakeholder consultation.”
Mr Goodwin also criticised the FCAI’s lack of consultation. “We’ve got a lot of concerns with the process,” he said.
“This has been going on quite a long time … all of a sudden in March 2014 we have a draft code with no consultation and it is meant to be all wrapped up and implemented by the end of March.”
Perhaps tellingly, Mr McDonald said an important consideration in drafting the code was “the investment in training, tools and equipment that franchised dealers make”.
Mr Goodwin pointed out that improved data sharing could benefit dealers as well, for example when they have to work on used or trade-in vehicles from brands they do not otherwise represent.
He drew comparisons with the aviation industry, in which relevant service bulletins and technical manual updates are quickly distributed to those who own and maintain aircraft.
Mr Charity said the AAAA will propose that Australia follows an example set in the USA, where a voluntary data sharing code of conduct that has been in place for a decade was recently formalised into a national agreement based on the Right To Repair bill passed in Massachusetts.
This law compels car companies to “immediately make available to the independent vehicle repair industry the same tools, software and repair information that they make available to the franchised dealers”.
In addition, from model year 2018 all car companies must provide access to all their software and service information databases on a subscription basis plus access to diagnostic and repair software through a standardised interface, meaning independent repairers can access the latest tools without a large investment.
“We are asking what is the difference here?” said Mr Charity. “The only difference I can see is there is a process [in the US] to verify the credentials of independent repairers, so all repairers have to go through a verification process … once that’s done, they have access to the information. It’s a self-funding system and something we could easily replicate here.”
Mr Charity said the AAAA reserves the right to walk away from negotiations and refer the case to Small Business Minister Bruce Billson, if “the car industry continues to deny there is an issue with access to information and continues to push this ineffectual and biased code”.
“Their [FCAI’s] code will not solve the issue, it will not make any difference and it is not what the Minister wants to see – an industry-led process than has input from all stakeholders.
“I am a bit intrigued about [how the FCAI became responsible for the code] because if you read the findings of the Commonwealth Consumer Affairs Advisory Council, it said it should be an industry-led outcome.
“But the industry is more than just car companies so my expectation was that we would all get together and would work on drafting it progressively.”
In its final report on automotive data sharing, the CCAAC also recommended that “the Government canvass regulatory options to ensure reasonable access to repair information, if industry is unable to arrive at an effective industry outcome, and access to repair information becomes a barrier to competition in the market for repairs”.
Mr Charity agreed that the FCAI appears to have formulated the code in order to avoid government intervention.
“That’s exactly what they are doing. Basically seen to be doing something and trying to push this through as a solution. Minister Billson is not going to accept this.”