Pursuit of legislation stymies OEMs

Jan. 1, 2020
If history is an indicator of the future, the OEMs are highly suspect.

It's a given that new car dealerships are one of the biggest threats, if not the biggest, to the aftermarket. Time after time, interview after interview, the players up and down the chain bemoan the fact that the dealerships are aggressively seeking to sell more aftermarket parts and service sales. Yet many of the same people do not see a need for "right to repair" legislation to guarantee independent repair shops the access to the carmakers' data and tools to diagnose and repair late model vehicles.

And I understand that. Manufacturers who sell to both markets have to walk the line. Repair shops with close relationships with dealerships have to walk the line. Associations that have members on both sides of the fence have to walk the line.

For the record, I crossed the line long ago and threw my backing to supporting legislation because this is an aftermarket magazine, pure and simple. As such, I don't offer my viewpoint lightly or without careful analysis. Besides the incessant onslaught of dealerships chasing the more profitable parts and service business, I am bothered by the OEMs' past behavior, which is still suspect today.

Even a cursory review of the history of the carmakers' behavior reveals an uncooperative, if not downright belligerent, attitude toward the aftermarket.

Take a look back to the Industrial Design Protection Act. This was a blatant attempt by the carmakers to grab the upper hand by pushing for a 10-year monopoly on replacement parts. They tried to sell it as a means to prevent the importation of inferior sheet metal parts, but those who fought this battle know that it was an attempt to grab more replacement parts business across the board.

Or how about Senate Bill 1146, the issue that, as it turned out, was kind of a warm-up for Right to Repair. Only after an exhaustive battle waged in California by some key associations and consumer groups did the carmakers agree to supply needed emissions data to independent repair shops.

The Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) has led the charge in both of the above examples, as well as the current Right to Repair issue. It has only had moderate success at the federal level, though it will continue its efforts. For the time being, the strategy has turned to a more grassroots approach by pushing legislation at the state level. Currently, Right to Repair legislation is moving forward in seven states.

Although AAIA has not been successful in securing federal legislation, it should be obvious that if it weren't for the pursuit of legislation, the success to gain some access thus far would not have happened.

In my opinion, the pursuit of legislation keeps pressure on the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF), which is attempting to facilitate diagnostic access of late model vehicles for all automotive service professionals. There is a lot of evidence that NASTF has had substantial success, but its self-appointed oversight is far from being the definitive answer, because there are still gaping holes in the access and delivery of data.

Couple that with the carmakers' history with the aftermarket, their need and desire to grow their aftermarket business and the fact that the carmakers might reverse their forced cooperation at any time or make their data cost prohibitive, and you can start to get an idea why the pursuit of legislation must continue.

Larry Silvey, Editor-in-chief/Group Editorial Director [email protected]