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Auto Service World: Consumers, Connected Cars, and the Fight for Control

Source: Christine Hogg, Auto Service World

This story first appeared in the February issue of CARS magazine. Click here to access the full digital issue.

The Automotive Industries Association of Canada, in partnership with the Auto Care Association and Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA) in the U.S., has recently launched Your Car. Your Data. Your Choice. which is a campaign designed to spread awareness about the importance of consumers being able to control access to the data coming from their vehicles. Also known as the Right to Repair Act, AIA Canada is adamant that wireless vehicle data needs to be transparent and shared with the consumer, if the aftermarket wishes to remain competitive as global supply chains go digital.

Together, these three associations have teamed up in an attempt to ask policymakers to pass legislation that ensures vehicle owners keep their right to choose where they take their vehicles for maintenance and repair. The campaign is part of a bigger issue currently at play in the aftermarket, which is how the industry is shifting to a world of connected cars.

But is there a backing by the federal government to assist with the campaign? The short answer is yes, says AIA Canada president, J.F. Champagne, who recently took part in a webinar devoted to the topic. “There are some people within government that understand the importance of the consumer owning and controlling their data, that understand that the whole privacy aspect of the information in the vehicle, and are sensitive to this,” Champagne said. “There’s also automakers who have a strong lobby who will say that they should be the guardian of the data.”

One of the commonly raised topics surrounding the campaign is the issue of insurers and repairers not following OE manufacturer’s procedures. “Our position remains that we need to fix cars right, hence having access to the right information in a timely fashion so we can provide timely, cost-effective, and proper repair for the consumer,” Champagne said.

The time to act is now

Within the next two years, AIA Canada believes that up to 95 per cent of all new cars sold in Canada are going to be connected cars, communicating information in real time directly to carmakers. “This is the big challenge that’s in front of us, because if you think about how we’ve been servicing vehicles, we’ve been relying on onboard diagnostic (OBD) parts since the ‘80s,” Champagne said. “Since 1996, we’ve been using OBD2 parts, and these parts provide greater access because we need to service increasingly more complicated vehicles, but the OBD2 parts are things that were fought by carmakers; they didn’t want to have this ubiquitous access.”

Carmakers have traditionally not been supportive of this type of access that was mandated by regulation. Most large organizations are currently focusing on harvesting and managing consumer data and using it to their benefit, and now, the automotive industry is no different, Champagne says.

Rather than performing traditional repairs by a technician, carmakers are now in the business of selling subscription-based software that can track when, how, and by whom their platforms are used, like Apple or Microsoft.

“I’m not opposing the idea of the connected car,” Champagne said. “But technology must be used in a way that provides innovation and a competitive marketplace, where most people, rather than a select few, have access to information. It’s all about providing opportunities that ultimately will benefit industries, consumers, and society as a whole.”

A global issue

In November 2020, the Government of Canada introduced Bill C-11, also known as the Digital Charter Act, which aims to “modernize the framework for the protection of personal information in the private sector.” As technology continues to shift and develop, the legislation takes a number of important steps to ensure that Canadians will be protected by a modern and responsive law and that innovative businesses will benefit from clear rules. According to the Government of Canada, these measures include increasing control and transparency when Canadians’ personal information is handled by companies, giving Canadians the freedom to move their information from one organization to another in a secure manner, and ensuring that when consent is withdrawn or information is no longer necessary, Canadians can demand that their information be destroyed.

Though not specific to the automotive sector, Bill C-11’s mandates can be applied to the industry, Champagne says.

While AIA Canada has only recently gotten involved, the movement to secure consumer data in connected cars has been active in the United States for several years now, with AASA and the Auto Care Association leading the charge.

“Eighty-five percent of consumers [vehicle owners] are unaware that their vehicles are transmitting data, and that access to the data is being threatened by automaker monopolization,” said Bill Hanvey, president and CEO of the Auto Care Association – one of AIA Canada’s American partners in the Your Car. Your Data. Your Choice. campaign. “We knew that we needed to have the consumer on our side, so first we needed to educate the industry, which is where the campaign came in.”

Audrey Gottlieb, co-owner and general manager of Audrey’s Auto Repair in Saskatoon, Sask., says that her customers want the ability to choose where they take their car in for service, just like any other retail outlet. “A few of our clients have expressed to us that dealerships are pushing them to have services performed on their vehicles sooner than they felt was required,” Gottlieb said. “In some cases, we found this to be true. In other cases, we felt like the dealership did not inform their customers of the services that required immediate attention, and that would be covered under warrant.”

Another major issue, Gottlieb said, is how dealerships are using consumer vehicle data. “What a lot of people don’t know is that the dealerships have the ability to track your every move,” she continued. “Their programs allow live data to be transmitted back to the manufacturers, who work hand in hand with dealerships to keep the revenue in their pockets, limiting the choices of where the consumer can take their vehicle in for service. So, they try not to share data with the aftermarket world, which can have a big effect on how the aftermarket repair shops survive.”

The right to repair

On Nov. 4, 2020, the state of Massachusetts voted in overwhelming favour (75 per cent to 25 per cent) of the Right to Repair Act, against a $30 million automaker campaign. The Act will preserve the right of vehicle owners to have access to and control of their vehicle’s mechanical data necessary for service and repair at the shops of their choice.

“Repair data is an absolute revenue stream for the automakers,” Hanvey said. “What we chose to do in Massachusetts is to tighten the law to ensure that we have access to telematic data that may not be secured through the OBD2 port. It’s only repair, mechanical, and prognostic data.”

In the end, both Hanvey and Champagne say that in the North American aftermarket, the message is simple: let the consumer choose where they want to have their vehicle repaired and give them access to the data in real-time in a standardized format.

To date, nearly 10,000 individuals have signed AIA Canada’s petition, urging the federal government to take notice of the issue surrounding consumers and their right to own and control their data. In the United States, Hanvey says that number is closer to 150,000.

“If our voice is strong, I think that our message should carry through, because there are in fact people who understand this issue,” Champagne concluded.

To learn more, visit www.vehicledataaccess.aiacanada.com. To sign the petition, visit www.bit.ly/CanadianPetition.

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