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Car Industry Scuttles Vehicle Data Sharing Negotiations

AAAA calls on Government to introduce mandatory code of conduct for vehicle data sharing

Federal Government sanctioned negotiations to establish a voluntary code of conduct between independent repairers and car companies to facilitate access to vehicle service and repair data have been scuttled by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) – the body representing car makers and importers.

The Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association (AAAA) declared the 18 month process to negotiate an equitable Code of Practice as a wasted opportunity following the FCAI’s decision to walk away from the negotiation table and release its own so-called ‘code’.

An industry led Voluntary Code of Practice was a primary recommendation arising from an extensive inquiry into vehicle data sharing conducted by the Commonwealth Consumer Affairs Advisory Council (CCAAC), which delivered its final report to Government in late 2012.

AAAA Executive Director Stuart Charity said the FCAI had treated Australian car owners, the CCAAC and the other stakeholders in the negotiations – the Australian Automobile Association (AAA) and the Australian Motor Industry Federation (AMIF) – with contempt.

“After many months of negotiations and with no prior notice, the FCAI released its own document titled ‘Voluntary Code of Practice – Access to Service and Repair Information for Motor Vehicles’. This is virtually the same ‘code’ that was categorically rejected by all other stakeholders when it was tabled by the FCAI at a negotiating meeting in February this year” said Stuart Charity.

“Indeed, the FCAI was strongly counselled not to release its unilateral document while negotiations for the voluntary industry code were progressing. The FCAI has treated this advice with disdain. They continue to ignore the demonstrable need for a code of conduct to protect car owners’ fundamental right to choose their preferred repairer,” he said.

FCAI “code” is biased and inadequate
The CCAAC inquiry found that by restricting repair information to only their authorised dealership networks, car companies have the power to reduce competition within the automotive repair industry, limiting consumer choice. The CCAAC also stated that if an effective, industry led outcome was not reached in a reasonable period of time, that there may be a case for government intervention.

In January 2014, the new Federal Minister for Small Business, the Hon Bruce Billson MP, indicated his intention to ensure that the recommendations made in the CCAAC inquiry were fully implemented. This confirmed bi-partisan political support for the need to resolve this important consumer issue.

“Minister Billson recognised that, as vehicles become more technologically advanced, the need for a code of conduct covering service and repair data sharing becomes more urgent,” Stuart Charity said.

“The sharing of vital vehicle repair and service data is critical to vehicle safety, minimising emissions and providing choice, convenience and competitive pricing for Australia’s 14 million car owners. The FCAI document lacks substance, has a biased dispute resolution process and the extensive list of exemptions mean it will have no impact on the availability of repair information.

“It is naive to suggest that the same companies that have monopolistic control over vehicle data – and a vested interest in maintaining the status quo – can be trusted to ‘self-regulate’,” he said.

Time for Government to act
Australia’s independent service and repair sector is not asking for free access to information. “We are seeking access to the information, tools and training required to diagnose faults, repair and maintain todays technically complex vehicles under ‘fair and reasonable’ commercial terms,” said Stuart Charity.

“This would bring Australia in line with data sharing arrangements already in place throughout the European Union and the USA. In contrast to our situation, in January this year all car companies operating in the USA market voluntarily entered into a national agreement to immediately make available to the independent vehicle repair industry the same tools, software and repair information that they make available to their franchised dealers.

“As these are the same multinational car companies operating in the Australian market, we must ask the FCAI: ‘Why do you believe Australian consumers do not deserve the same rights as car owners in Europe and North America?’

“Based on the conduct of the FCAI, we believe it is pointless wasting any more time or effort on farcical negotiations. Their latest actions make it clear that the FCAI has no intention of genuinely working towards an industry led voluntary solution.

“The AAAA began our Choice of Repairer campaign in 2009. The car industry has had years to voluntarily fix this critical consumer issue. We believe it is now time for Minister Billson to step in and end this FCAI charade.

“We are meeting with Minister Billson on 28 October and will call on him to immediately set the wheels in motion to implement a Mandatory Code of Conduct to ensure competition and choice for Australian car owners now and into the future,” said Stuart Charity.

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