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Parts sector aims to iron out state roadblocks

Working on it: AAAA CEO Stuart Charity is hopeful inconsistencies between states over vehicle modifications can be iron out, with the AIC facilities potentially paving the way to uniformity.

New AIC could eliminate cross-border regulatory hassles for accessory manufacturers

16 Dec 2019

THE establishment of two Auto Innovation Centres (AIC) held out the promise of helping sort out cross-border differences between states over how to test and approve modified vehicles, according to Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association (AAAA) chief executive Stuart Charity.


Speaking at the launch of the Melbourne AIC last week, Mr Charity said the centres – which will include a facility in South Australia next year – will allow parts-makers to develop and test their new products to ensure they perform as claimed and do not impinge on the safety systems already built into the vehicles being modified.


In a promising start, several state regulatory authorities accepted invitations to meet at the AIC to open discussions about how best to eliminate some of the inconsistencies in regulating modified vehicles around the country.


Mr Charity said differences between the National Code of Practice for Modified Vehicles and the regulations used by the various state and other jurisdictions to govern vehicle modification had been a headache for parts and accessory manufacturers for years.


This was one of the main reasons behind the idea of creating the AIC, which came to him in 2014 when he visited the SEMA Garage in the United States.


“This AIC will be a game-changer,” Mr Charity told guests at the official opening.


“It looks like a product development and test facility, but it is so much more than that.


“We believe the AIC will facilitate far greater collaboration and co-operation with regulators. Certainly, that’s what’s happened in the US with the SEMA Garage. The regulators work collaboratively with the SEMA Garage.


“We don’t expect it’s going to happen on day one, but we certainly are looking to collaborate far more in future.”


Several state regulatory authorities took up invitations to attend the AIC opening and organised their own meetings on the premises before the official opening.


“We invited all the state regulators to come and have a look at the AIC,” said AAAA director of advocacy, marketing and research Lesley Yates.


“We have posed the question: if we can provide to them good tests and evidence that the modifications that our members’ products make interact well with the ESC and all the other ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems) things – lane-departure warning, collision avoidance – available on modern vehicles, will you work with us to work out approvals for some sensible modifications, particularly where the states vary?”


Ms Yates said the AIC had received invaluable support from five major sponsors: Bosch (ADAS calibration technology), Burson (Hunter technical equipment), Continental (tyre performance data), Hella Gutman (also ADAS calibration systems) and Repco (hand tools and workshop equipment).


She said there were still disparities between the states, particularly in how much a vehicle may be raised.


“There are obvious differences in permitted (vehicle) lift.  Most states are now 50mm (suspension lift) plus 25mm (tyre lift), but a couple of states are still technically 50mm plus nothing," she said.


"So we’ve now got an opportunity, particularly with the access to Continental’s tyre data, to run simulations with tyre lift."


Ms Yates said that while uniformity of regulation may not yet be on the regulators’ agenda, it was certainly a priority for the aftermarket industry.


“Each of the states believe they have got it right and the other states have got it wrong,” she said.


“In the past, we have had a very ‘government relations’policy approach to the regulators. With this new facility we now have an opportunity to have an engineer-to-engineer conversation and we’ve started that, and it is a different conversation.


“I’m an economist and our industry can’t get economies of scale unless we are all doing the same modifications statewide and nationwide.”


Ms Yates said that when it is an engineer-to-engineer conversation, participants can get down to basics and have an open conversation.


“The AIC will be able to ask, ‘If we were to do these modifications, is that something that you would be comfortable with? What areyou worried about? What other testing do you want us to do, because we will do it?’


“So, it has just changed the dialogue from deeply entrenched positions. Theirs is very risk averse, understandably. If we can’t prove it’s safe, it’s not going to happen.


“Now we are saying, ‘Bring your engineers in and let’s have an engineer-to-engineer conversation. Let’s talk to each other.’


“We can ask, ‘What are you worried about? How about this evidence? Would we be able to do this?’ So it will be much more of a dialogue as to what we need to do to make everyone comfortable with the modifications that then AIC is testing.”


One regulatory authority executive, who asked not to be named, said there were some topics that needed to be discussed at a national level if all the states and jurisdictions were to be brought into line.


“These topics are where the National Code of Practice for Modified Vehicles may not cover some of the modifications that are being requested and, so, how do we –both at a state level and at a national level – ensure that, if those modifications are approved, they they’re approved in a way that is safe,” the source said.


“This is where the discussions between states and other jurisdictions come into play. If it is approved in Victoria, will it be accepted in Queensland?


“It is always preferable when any sort of engineering decision or judgement is made that it is based on data. And data is obtained through testing.


“Now the question is, ‘What are appropriate testing standards, and what are reasonable testing standards?’ That’s something we were discussing as well. 


“We want to understand what could be offered from a testing perspective and whether the AIC’s facility could potentially offer the opportunity to do that testing.”


The source said the AIC offered the possibility for testing results achieved under the AIC’s governance to be accepted by the various regulators.


“The testing results could be approved maybe because of the standard of testing they can do, and the way they do the testing, the calibration that can be achieved and the experience of the operators.


“We want to be able to enable our authorised signatories to inspect and approve modified vehicles competently. To do that, the more data and evidence they have behind the modification of the vehicle, the more confident they can be in their approval and the more confident we can be of the way they are doing their business.


“And if our confidence is aligned with the confidence in the other states and jurisdictions, that’s good for the customer.”

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