Last week, the Massachusetts legislature’s Joint Committee on Professional Licensure and Consumer Protection held yet another hearing on Right to Repair. While a great many people thought that the issue was settled when the commonwealth’s voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum establishing a requirement that car companies share repair and diagnostic information, tools and software with independent shops and car owners, there is still unfinished business to settle in the long-fought battle over the issue.
As most AAIA members are aware, the Right to Repair Coalition in Massachusetts and the car companies reached an historic agreement on right to repair in late July 2012. That agreement was enacted by the Massachusetts legislature on July 31 of last year in the closing hours of the session and was signed by the governor on Aug. 7. However, the agreement and subsequent enactment of legislation came too late to remove the referendum from the Nov. 6 ballot. Not surprisingly, the referendum was approved by the voters by an 85-15 percent margin, the largest in commonwealth history. So now Massachusetts has two Right to Repair laws which, while similar in purpose, have some differences in scope and in how the requirements are implemented.
Both laws immediately require that independent shops have full and affordable access to the information, tools and software to work on late model vehicles. Both bills further require that car companies maintain all of their information and software in a cloud that an independent shops can obtain using a generic PC, and which utilizes a standardize vehicle interface known as J2534. However, the ballot measure implements this requirement by model 2015 and the bill by model year 2018. The ballot measure also covers motorcycles and trucks, a requirement that was removed from the law that passed the legislature.
One other issue that was raised during the hearing was telematics. Telematics is the ability for a vehicle to send information regarding diagnostics, mileage and GPS wirelessly to the vehicle manufacturer. Absent access to this information, car companies will have the ability to provide services direct to the motorists, providing a competitive advantage to their franchised dealers in communicating directly with motorists regarding the service needs of their vehicle. Obviously, the issue raises competitive flags for many in the aftermarket, including AAIA. Although neither Right to Repair law addresses the need for the aftermarket to have access to telematic system, it is an issue that was discussed during the hearing and will likely be the subject of future conversations between the aftermarket and the car companies.
While the hearing centered on many issues related to the Right to Repair law and the need for reconciliation of the two laws, it also became apparent from the discussion as to how far the Right to Repair issue has come. For years, legislators in Massachusetts debated whether they should be the first in the nation to enact Right to Repair legislation. Now there is a sense of pride over having successfully found a compromise that will become the model for either a national agreement or other state action on this issue. Clearly, the hard work put in by legislators, combined with the strong support by the voters for competition in the repair industry, has established a new benchmark. Hopefully that legacy will continue as the industry tackles future issues, such as telematics.