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Data-sharing code rejected by repair industry

Code black: The FCAI's data-sharing code of conduct has been criticised by the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association and the Australian Automobile Association.

FCAI defends data-sharing code following criticism from industry bodies

General News logo21 Oct 2014

THE Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) is fending off a growing chorus of complaints over the data-sharing code of conduct it has drawn up at the direction of the federal government.

The debate that has blown up since the data-sharing code was released looks certain to force the federal minister for small business Bruce Billson to intervene and take control of the issue.

The proposed code excludes 16 different areas where the car-makers will refuse to make data available.

Critics say the last of the 16 exclusions is a catchall clause that says the information provided to an independent repairer does not have to include all the details that would be provided to a franchised dealer.

The chamber, which represents the car-makers, has been accused of ignoring the needs of the independent repair industry and its customers by designing a data-sharing code that favors the car-makers and their dealers.

The Australian Automotive Dealer Association helped develop the code of conduct.

Of the 16 exclusion areas, the three major ones are safety, security and environmental technology.

These three areas contain a large percentage of the electronics on a vehicle and represent a significant proportion of the repair and maintenance work a car would need during its life.

FCAI chief executive Tony Weber told GoAuto that Mr Billson was impressed with the code.

“I have talked to the minister about the model I have just outlined and the minister said he thought that was an outstanding model,” he said.

Mr Weber stopped short of suggesting the minister had endorsed the exclusions in the FCAI code.

“He knows about it. He has seen our document. He certainly hasn’t come back and said this is a disaster.”

Despite the FCAI’s strong defence of its proposed code, the chamber’s position has been weakened by the absence of market leader Toyota.

Last year Toyota launched its own web-based data access service that makes all Toyota data available to accredited independent repairers for an annual fee of $2000.

The FCAI has been accused of walking away from negotiations with other stakeholders in the repair industry and treating consumers with contempt.

The Australian Automobile Association, which represents the eight state motoring clubs, claims the FCAI and the big car companies it represents were trying to bully the independent repairers into accepting a one-sided code of conduct.

AAA Chief executive Andrew McKellar said there was no reason why Australian independent repairers and vehicle owners should be treated worse than in other countries.

“I don’t think we should be bullied or pushed around by the big brands in the industry,” he said.

“In Australia we should not be settling for a lesser standard than a European consumer gets or an American consumer gets. We should be pushing for the best possible deal.”

He said the one-sided nature of the FCAI code made it unacceptable.

“This demonstrates a level of arrogance and contempt for the interests of consumers,” he said.

He contrasted the list of exclusions included in the FCAI code with the definition of repair and maintenance information in the European code.

“Under EU law, vehicle repair and maintenance information is defined as 'all information required for the diagnosis, servicing, inspection, periodic monitoring, repair, reprogramming or reinitialising of the vehicle and which the manufacturers provide for their authorised dealers and repairers, including all subsequent amendments and supplements to such information',” Mr McKellar said.

“It’s a definition that doesn’t say it excludes this or that or something else or that it excludes 16 things we have thought of on a list.

“Our point is it should be a simple and inclusive definition, not a definition designed to give you 16 separate loopholes, including the final one, which is a catch-all.”

Under the proposed FCAI code, independent repairers would also be denied access to the regular technical bulletins that all manufacturers issue during a model’s life cycle.

Toyota sends these bulletins to both its franchised dealers and those independents who subscribe to its data access service.

Mr McKellar said the decision by the FCAI and the Australian Automotive Dealer Association to release a code while negotiations were still underway was a serious breach of faith.

“The car brands have sought to protect their own interests and the interests of their franchised dealers by limiting access to a range of service and repair information.”

The Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association, which represents independent repairers, retailers and manufacturers, said the release of the FCAI’s “unilateral” code demonstrated contempt for the other stakeholders in what was supposed to be an industry-wide collaboration.

“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 AAAA chief executive Stuart Charity.

“Indeed, the FCAI was strongly counseled not to release its unilateral document while negotiations for the voluntary industry code were progressing,” he said.

“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,” Mr Charity said.

In defending the code, Mr Weber pointed to a report by Treasury released in 2011 that found there was “no evidence of systemic consumer detriment at present” in the vehicle repair and maintenance market.

However, in June 2013, then assistant treasurer in the Gillard Government, David Bradbury, acknowledged that consumers and independent repairers had become frustrated about the lack of access to technical information from the car-makers.

He backed a call by the Commonwealth Consumer Affairs Advisory Council for the industry to develop a process that would give independent repairers access to technical data.

The CCAAC said at the time that, if a satisfactory code were not developed, the Government would have to intervene and impose a mandatory code of conduct.

Mr Weber sought to assuage the fears of the independent repair sector by pointing out that the FCAI recognised that the franchised dealers could not service all of the 17 million cars on Australia’s roads and that independents had a role to play.

“We are putting all the information out on the public domain. We are doing this for the consumer…. so the consumer can decide where to take his vehicle.”

Mr Weber said the data-sharing models enforced by governments in Europe and the US were not relevant in Australia “because they are totally different markets with completely different volumes”.

“The information would be different. The cars are different for this market.”

Mr Weber said he expected the associations representing the independent repairers to issue their own codes of conduct committing their members to making investments in training and specialised equipment so they could service the 350 different models available for sale.

“So we are waiting on the other associations to do that. The AADA is well down the path of doing that and we are just waiting patiently.”

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