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Boston Globe: In Latest ‘Right to Repair’ Move, Kia Shuts off New Car Tech in Massachusetts

Source: Hiawatha Bray, Boston Globe

Korean automaker Kia has switched off the wireless “telematic” data systems of its new cars sold in Massachusetts, as a way to comply with the state’s controversial right-to-repair law.

Kia’s policy was revealed by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in documents submitted to Boston federal court last week. Healey is fighting a lawsuit filed by the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, an association of the world’s top carmakers, which seeks to overturn the right-to-repair law.

Kia is following the example of Japanese car company Subaru, which adopted a similar strategy last year. It’s unclear when Kia adopted its policy, but an October 2021 press release from the company warned that the wireless feature, called Kia Connect, “may currently be unavailable for Model Year 2022 and newer vehicles sold or purchased in Massachusetts.”

According to a statement issued Thursday by Kia America, “The new law requires that 2022 and newer vehicles that utilize a telematics system be equipped with an inter-operable, standardized and open access platform, but such a platform does not currently exist in the market, thus making compliance impossible.” So the carmaker has simply turned off its telematics system in new models, to buy time.

The Massachusetts law, passed by referendum in 2020, requires all carmakers doing business in the state to give consumers access to a car’s telematic data — diagnostic information provided over a wireless connection. This would let consumers get their cars fixed at the repair shop of their choice, by ensuring that independent shops could get the same diagnostic data as retail dealerships.

But enforcement of the law was put on hold when the carmakers filed their lawsuit. The auto companies say that only the federal government, not the states, may pass such a law. In addition, the law requires compliance starting with the 2022 model year. Carmakers have said they need more time to install the technologies needed for compliance.

The case went to trial in the summer of 2021, but Healey has since submitted new evidence. In October, she informed the court about Subaru’s telematic system shutdown and on Jan. 14 revealed that Kia has done the same.

Healey argued that car companies can immediately obey the law by simply switching off the telematic features in the cars they sell in Massachusetts, just as Subaru and Kia have done.

The carmakers say this merely amounts to evading the law, not obeying it, and assert that the statute still conflicts with federal law. Also, shutting off telematics means depriving car buyers of useful and potentially life-saving features, like enabling a car to automatically call for help if it’s involved in a traffic accident.

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