A European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling issued last week addressed ongoing litigation over “right to repair” between a U.S. automaker and European glass repair entity.
The ruling is the result of a lawsuit filed by Carglass — a glass repair, replacement, and calibration subsidy of Belron — against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). It was filed over the interpretation of EU regulations on approval and market surveillance of the intended uses of vehicle systems, components, and separate technical units.
The court interpreted regulations to mean that a vehicle manufacturer is precluded from making access by independent operators to vehicle repair and maintenance information and to on-board diagnostic information, including write access to that information, subject to conditions other than those laid down in Article 61(1) and (4) of Regulation (EU) 2018/858 of the European Parliament.
Belron says the ruling “removes the anti-competitive obstacles imposed by vehicle manufacturers and will allow all independent repair shops access to essential car data.”
“This reinforces the importance of a fair and level playing field in the automotive aftermarket and the benefits this brings to consumers,” Belron said.
Certain aftermarket services, including recalibration of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) following windscreen replacement or solving problems indicated by a warning lamp, require access to a car data stream, Belron added, but some vehicle manufacturers are increasingly obstructing access through technical hurdles and license fees.
“This adds unnecessary cost and affects free competition in the aftermarket and consumers’ freedom of choice, and can lead to higher prices for consumers,” Belron said.
The same argument has been made in the U.S. “right to repair,” i.e., R2R, movement — that on-board diagnostics necessary to make automotive and collision repairs aren’t available to everyone. OEMs contend they already offer equal access to vehicle owners, dealerships, certified repair centers, and independent repair centers.
The topic is often hard to discern, even for media outlets, who seem to see the issue simply as support of independent repairers’ access to vehicle diagnostics or opposition to that access in saying the data doesn’t need to be shared.
For example, the closing remarks of a recent WMTW ABC 8 “Total Maine” segment with Steve Minich on the state’s upcoming Nov. 7 R2R referendum question wrapped up with the statement, “A ‘yes’ vote supports the independent mechanics. A “’no’ means the diagnostic data does not have to be shared.”
But that simply isn’t the case. R2R opposition isn’t that the information shouldn’t be shared. It’s that necessary data already is shared and has been since at least 2014 when a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed by automakers and the aftermarket. The MOU was reaffirmed in July by the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS), the Alliance for Automotive Innovation (Auto Innovators), and the Automotive Service Association (ASA). Shortly after, Tesla and Rivian signed on to the agreement as well.
The difference between R2R supporters’ and the opposition’s argument is that supporters want unrestricted access rather than only what’s necessary for specific repairers. The opposition sees that as a threat to the cybersecurity of vehicles, as detailed here in an October 2022 Auto Innovators memo.
“Our members aren’t reaching out to our organization telling us that they’re struggling to access the information they need to fix cars properly,” said SCRS Executive Director Aaron Schulenburg in the WMTW segment. “Instead, what they’re more often reaching out to our group for is help because they’re, as you said, receiving economic pressure. The claims settlement practices when working with their insurance claims and things along those lines make it difficult for independent repair shops to be reimbursed for the necessary costs associated with doing that.”
“Economic pressure” means, he added, whether costs to access necessary repair information are reasonable.
“It becomes difficult to pay for necessary services when there isn’t reimbursement or recognition of those costs associated with the repair,” Schulenburg said.
Most importantly, SCRS wants Maine consumers to know that there are independent collision repair centers out there that can access correct and safe automaker information and tools to fix vehicles the way they were designed to keep you safe. The question to keep in mind, Schulenburg said, is what is really behind R2R? Safe and proper repairs at independent repair centers or in support of larger corporations that are trying to make sure they have access to your vehicle’s data?
Steve Bedell, a part-time employee at Stroudwater Tire & Auto and semi-retired auto industry worker, told WMTW that he sees the ballot question as being about consumer choice.
“If they choose to go to a dealership, that’s fine but it doesn’t preclude the information from being available to the aftermarket,” he said.
In support of the REPAIR Act, federal R2R legislation, the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) said the ECJ’s ruling could advance it and its coalition partners’ efforts to codify R2R at the federal level.
“H.R. 906, REPAIR Act, addresses similar cybersecurity concerns that automakers have used against right to repair efforts,” SEMA said.
SEMA added the ECJ ruling could also have a global impact on vehicle manufacturers because 53 other countries follow the UN rule that requires vehicles to be equipped with cybersecurity defenses before they are allowed to be sold in their respective markets.
The ruling is binding for all vehicle manufacturers and independents in the market, including Carglass and ATU, across the EU. It’s expected to be applied within the UK as well.
“We are delighted by today’s ruling provided by the ECJ,” said Carlos Brito, CEO of Belron. “This decision reinforces a fair and level playing field in the automotive aftermarket and the benefits this brings to consumers. “We believe this ruling will be influential around the world as legislators address right to repair issues created by the rapidly increasing level of connected car technology in vehicles.
“We are committed to working constructively with all vehicle manufacturers to ensure that this ruling is implemented effectively so that consumers are able to continue to benefit from the competition provided by the independent aftermarket.”
Jean-Pierre Filippini, managing director of Carglass Germany, added, “We now expect all vehicle manufacturers to respect the ECJ´s interpretation of the law and end all restrictions of access to the OBD port immediately so that we can ensure that the benefits of fair and competitive access to vehicle systems are felt by consumers as soon as possible.”
Currently, around 30% of all vehicles need recalibration of their ADAS when the windscreen has been replaced and continues to rise as the number of ADAS-equipped vehicles on the roads increases, according to Belron.
“Many tasks carried out in a vehicle repair shop (whether repair or maintenance) require that the mechanic has access to the car data stream via the so-called onboard diagnostics (OBD) port,” Belron said. “ATU, like all independent repair shops, gets this access using common multi-brand diagnostic devices connected to the OBD port of the vehicle.”
A key consideration for the ECJ was the importance of cybersecurity, and this decision confirms that cybersecurity issues can be addressed adequately by vehicle manufacturers without the need to impose restrictions on the aftermarket, Belron added.
“Across Belron, cybersecurity is of paramount importance, and we are constantly working to ensure our systems stay ahead of emerging threats to protect our customers’ personal information and to ensure the safety and security of their vehicles,” Brito said. “Customers that bring their vehicles to us trust our ability to carry out our work, which includes connecting to their vehicle through their OBD port, in a high-quality and efficient way that will not compromise their safety or cybersecurity. We are confident that vehicle manufacturers such as FCA are able to appropriately manage cyber security risks without needing to unduly restrict access to vehicle systems/data (including via the OBD port), thereby impacting independent aftermarket servicing.”
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