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Minister intervenes in data sharing

Share house: Stuart Charity (left), CEO of the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association and federal small business minister Bruce Billson discuss the data sharing issue.

Five peak automotive bodies agree on the rules of engagement for data sharing

General News logo17 Dec 2014

CAR-MAKERS have been forced back to the negotiating table after the federal small business minister Bruce Billson intervened in the long-running dispute over granting access to service and repair data to independent repairers.

The car companies, through the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), have signed a heads of agreement that outlines the aims and considerations to be taken into account when they sit down and resume negotiations with the other four peak automotive bodies.

The FCAI has until March to come up with an acceptable system of providing independent repairers access to crucial repair and maintenance data.

On two occasions earlier this year, the FCAI has walked away from industry discussions and released a code of conduct governing the way in which the independent repairers would be granted access to manufacturer data and how much data they would be able to access.

It has been supported by the Australian Automotive Dealer Association (AADA), which represents franchised dealers.

The heads of agreement contains two critical provisions that overturns previous FCAI policy.

It stipulates that independent repairers must be given access to the same data that is made available to franchised dealers.

It also knocks down two critical barriers the FCAI had previously insisted on.

The chamber had consistently said that data on security systems, safety systems and environmental systems would not be provided under any circumstances.

The heads of agreement only separates out security systems, which means independent repairers will be able to access data on safety and environmental systems.

Stuart Charity, the chief executive of the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association (AAAA), which started the choice of repairer campaign five years ago, said he was comfortable with this.

“That’s fair enough,” he said. “We don’t have a secure data release model in Australia like they do in the US. Until such time as we get that, key recoding and anything that impacts on vehicle entry and immobilisation should be withheld.”

GoAuto has seen the heads of agreement, which comprises 14 core principles.

“The first one is that consumers should be able to choose who should repair their vehicle,” said Mr Charity.

He said the fourth element was also crucial.

It states that the repairer should be able to access all information required for the diagnosis, body repair, servicing, inspection, periodic monitoring and re-initialising of the vehicle.

This has to be “in line” with the service and repair information manufacturers provide to their authorised dealers and repairers.

“From our perspective, independent repairers will get everything that the dealers get, under fair and reasonable commercial terms,” Mr Charity said.

“The data won’t be shared free of charge. We have never asked for that.”

Mr Charity said that, while it would be difficult to lay down fair and reasonable terms to cover every manufacturer in every instance, “there are extensive definitions for what is fair and reasonable available from the legislation in Europe and the US”.

He said manufacturers in other countries often charged an annual fee of around $2000 that gave independent repairers access to all service and repair data.

The code of conduct released in September by the FCAI and the AADA was not the result of consultation with the other three bodies and was criticised for being just a list of no-go areas and reasons why independent repairers would not be granted access.

The September release created a storm of criticism and Minister Billson had no option but to force the FCAI and AADA to reach a heads of agreement with the other bodies on how and how much access would be granted.

This was the document signed this week, with the other signatories being the Australian Motor Industry Federation (representing the state automotive chambers of commerce), the Australian Automobile Association (representing the RACV, NRMA and other state car clubs) and the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association.

The five bodies now have three months in which to come up with a code of conduct that meets the criteria set out in this week’s heads of agreement.

The Minister has made it clear he will legislate if necessary to force car-makers to grant access to data and repair information, as has been done in Europe and parts of the US.

The five bodies have now been told to go away and ensure their codes of conduct are in line with the new heads of agreement, although there are fears that the FCAI and AADA will not change the contentious code they released in September.

“The new heads of agreement lays down that the new codes of practice will be sorted out three months from now,” said AAA director of government relations James Goodwin.

“It appears the intention of the FCAI now is not to amend their code, so that would be what we would consider a serious breach of the principles in the heads of agreement.”

Mr Goodwin said the minister had made it clear that, if the FCAI/AADA code of practice was not brought into line with the new heads of agreement, the government would be forced to legislate.

“One of our arguments that the FCAI struggled to counter was that, if a car-maker was working comfortably under legislation in Europe, why does its Australian subsidiary say it cannot sign up to a voluntary agreement with the same principles in Australia.”

In their joint press release, the FCAI and the AADA highlighted the part of the heads of agreement that states that repairers must notify customers as to whether genuine or non-genuine parts are being fitted.

“It is important that, if non-genuine parts are being used, the consumer is made aware of any risks that may arise,” FCAI chief executive Tony Weber said.

Mr Weber and AADA chief Ian Field said this level of information would be a benefit to customers.

AMIF chief executive Richard Dudley said the rights of consumers and all automotive businesses had been enhanced through the development, and unanimous endorsement, of the 14 principles for sharing vehicle repair and service data.

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