The Liberal/National Party (LNP) has this morning released its consultation paper into the sharing of manufacturer vehicle service and repair information, backing the ACCC's calls to make it mandatory.
The LNP's proposal would require manufacturers to make the "diagnostic, repair and servicing information and tools" offered to its dealers available for businesses like "repairers and data aggregators" to purchase, but there would be no specific consequences for manufacturers who won't play ball.
Instead of firm penalties, the LNP proposal contains an obligation to act in good faith and highlights the fact mandatory codes of conduct are enforceable by the ACCC.
That omission has left the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce (VACC) unimpressed. According to VACC chief Geoff Gwilym, the absence of clear enforcement conditions means the proposal is "not worth the paper it's printed on".
"If a mandated code has no penalties for non-compliance it will not work in the real world," Gwilym argued.
It might not be codified, but plenty of information about servicing already makes its way to aftermarket repairers. Data-sharing between manufacturers and the aftermarket is mandatory in USA and parts of Europe, meaning the information is often on-sold to local garages. If you're a capable internet sleuth, there's very little that can't be dug up with a bit of Googling, too.
Of course, second-hand information from overseas markets isn't nearly as useful as data that's been verified by local manufacturers.
There's also the issue of time. In an investigation commissioned by the ACCC, an independent garage was only able to easily repair an issue with service information supplied by the relevant manufacturer in 50 per cent of cases. In 3/10 cases, the data took more than two weeks to arrive.
Manufacturers are, understandably, concerned about sharing certain information with third parties. There are provisions in the LNP proposal designed to protect trade secrets and intellectual property, but the worries extend beyond that.
Car companies invest a lot of money in training staff and tooling workshops, so the idea of making it easier for small garages without the same huge costs cutting their lunch isn't exactly appealing.
There's also the fact modern vehicles are incredibly complex, and allowing full access to people without the right training opens the door for accidental damage to critical safety, convenience or powertrain functions. Independent workshops would argue, of course, that full data access would reduce this potential.
Finally, as hybrid and electrified technology becomes more common, the amount of training and knowledge required to safely service vehicles is likely to rise. The idea of the intern at your local garage fiddling with high-voltage wires in your Corolla Hybrid isn't a fun one.
Speaking with CarAdvice, a spokesperson for the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, the peak body for manufacturers in Australia, is focused on "the safety and wellbeing of automotive staff, technicians and customers".
"This focus on safety is particularly relevant considering the new and innovative technology that is now entering the market in the form of pure electric, hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, and the tooling and training that is critical to safely service and repair these vehicles," the spokesperson said.
The corollary of the manufacturer's perspective is simple: making it mandatory for manufacturers to share service and repair manuals with third parties makes it easier for the 'little guy' to take on the big dealers by facilitating opportunities for them to service a wider range of cars.
As you might imagine, there are lots of stakeholders involved here.
There's the aftermarket, represented by the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association (AAAA), the car manufacturers, backed by the aforementioned Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), new cars dealers, supported by the Australia Automotive Dealer Association (AADA), and the auto retail, service and repair industry, looked after by the Motor Trades Association of Australia (MTAA).
Enough acronyms? Each would get a seat on an advisory committee under the proposal, along with the Australian Automotive Association (AAA) representing the nation's motoring clubs.
Every body has its own areas of concern, with the AADA highlighting the need for information to be shared in a way "safeguarding safety, environmental and security information appropriately".
Although the proposal would potentially make life easier for aftermarket repairers looking to poach servicing clients from dealerships, the body threw its support behind the idea of mandatory sharing between manufacturers and the aftermarket.
“Franchised new car dealers need a strong independent repairer network, because the task of repairing and maintaining the entire vehicle fleet is too big a task for our members alone," said David Blackhall, AADA CEO.
“It is critical that this regulation provides access to information on a fair, equitable basis and that sensitive information is shared in a responsible way."
Having released its consultation paper, the LNP is working with relevant bodies to nail down a final code of conduct. We'll continue to cover the issue as it develops.