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The Fight for Vehicle Data

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Digitizing the Repair Process

Feb. 3, 2022—The amount of data that a single vehicle can produce has increased exponentially over the last half decade. Cameras, sensors and other data collection technology are becoming increasingly commonplace in vehicles, and the ways in which that technology is used are more complex than ever.

One analysis by Tuxera, a Finnish software company, shows that a single vehicle with even basic ADAS can produce upward of 25 gigabytes of data every hour.

“What we see now is the vehicle manufacturers embedding telematics more in the new car build,” says Derek Kaufman, aftermarket consultant and managing partner at Schwartz Advisors. “We've seen it go from OBD-II port plug-in devices to more built-in, mobile integrated devices. That makes the data more accessible to people from their phones or whatever device they are using.”

While there is probably too much data for one shop to use all of it, Kaufman says receiving data from a customer’s vehicle before they come into a shop could be a huge boon for the aftermarket.

“If a shop has a relationship with a customer, they can incorporate that customer’s telematics service into that relationship,” he says. “They can take the relationship from being reactive—the customer shows up for a repair—to predictive because the vehicle throws off a trouble code to the owner of that vehicle, who then chooses to send that to a shop of their choice.”

Access to data is critical for repairers.

Third-party data processing providers such as CCC Intelligent Solutions say they understand how important it is for aftermarket shops to have access to new information and tools from OEMs, and they see themselves playing a critical role in helping shops access and use that information.

“It's more important now than ever before that shops have access to information about the construction of the vehicle, about the proper repair of the vehicle. That information is extensive,” CCC Market Solutions VP Mark Fincher says. “I've heard anecdotally that if you really want to do it right, it could take six to eight hours to research a larger repair, all the procedures and really read through all the documentation. There could be a couple hundred pages of documentation from the OEM on a larger repair.”

As technology in vehicles becomes more advanced, so too has the technology repairers need to access data and other diagnostics from those vehicles. Fincher points to CCC’s estimating tools and other similar systems  as a prime example of technology making information readily available and imminently accessible.

“Now more than ever before, as vehicle complexity is changing not only on a year-by-year basis but even within model years, we're seeing changes in production lines for certain vehicles where they're making changes to the construction of the vehicle,” Fincher says. “Understanding those procedures is really critical.”

With more wireless options than ever before, Kaufman says shops are more capable of having some form of interface to receive data from customers’ vehicles than ever before. Access to that data is key in making safe and complete repairs on a vehicle, though not every party involved seems to agree with that.

“That’s where a big problem comes in, though, because the OEMs don’t necessarily want independent shops to be in connection with their vehicles,” Kaufmann says.

The battle for information is on.

The Right to Repair battle has been waged for nearly two decades now, as independent repairers and consumers try to fight for access to information and tools to be able to repair the products they purchase and use. 

For the automotive aftermarket, that means getting access to repair procedures and telematics data that are essential for repairing new vehicles with increasingly complex ADAS systems and other technologies.

Recently, some progress has been made in favor of the aftermarket. A resounding 75 percent of Massachusetts residents voted for a more robust Right to Repair law in 2020. That vote, however, has faced some significant challenges and appeals from OEM lobbyists.

Just last month, OEMs made a last-ditch effort to delay implementation of the changes to 2025, sending the fight over the voter-approved law to federal court.

Supporters of the law, such as Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition Director Tommy Hickey, are ripping those efforts to overturn the law and are calling on lawmakers to reject the proposals to delay its implementation.

“Massachusetts consumers have spoken, and the law now gives them the right to control their own repair data so that they can get their car fixed where they want,” Hickey said in a statement following a hearing in the Legislature in January. “However, instead of listening to their customers and attempting to comply with the ballot initiative, automakers and dealers filed a baseless, anti-democratic lawsuit.”

Despite those challenges, Kaufman says the fact the law passed in the first place is a sign that consumers are invested in the debate and want to have some say in it, which is good for the aftermarket.

“The people of Massachusetts have said they want the ability to own the data coming off their cars and to use that data to direct the vehicle to the service location of their choice,” Kaufman says. “That is going to be an ongoing battle between the OEMs and the independent shops, and that hand-off of information is something that is going to have to be managed.”

Kaufman says OEMs should do more than just want a better relationship, though. Each vehicle is an extension of an automaker’s reputation, and with the average age of a car now around 12.1 years old, those vehicles are outlasting their warranties by significant stretches. 

As vehicles get older, Kaufman says owners are less likely to bring them into dealership or OEM-certified shops for maintenance. During the ADAPT: Automotive Technology Summit held in December in Nashville, Mike Anderson of Collision Advice said that roughly 60 percent of drivers who experience an issue with a repair or maintenance on their car  think it “will never be the same” and switch cars within a year or so. Of those who do switch, around 60 percent choose a different brand. 

Because of that, Kaufman says it is in the OEMs’ best interest to make telematics data readily available to repairers. 

“All the shops are asking is the same amount of data that a dealership has to work on a car so they can do it correctly. It’s in [the OEM’s] best interest to partner with the independent aftermarket to maintain the reputation of their brands.

As I say, not as I do.

Though the relationship between the aftermarket and OEMs is strained, several major automakers said they’ve started to recognize the aftermarket is an essential component of the automotive maintenance and repair ecosystem.

“We understand that independent repairers are an extension. Our customers are your customers,” Mark Zoba, product and services planning manager for Nissan, said during the ADAPT Automotive Technology Summit. “We want to make sure that shops have the information, training and tools available to make those safe and proper repairs. We want to have a better relationship.”

A panel of OEM representatives from Ford, General Motors, Nissan and Audi all acknowledged the importance of the aftermarket during the Summit and said a healthy relationship between the aftermarket and automakers is critical for both sectors. 

Still, actions speak louder than words, and the actions of automakers currently suggest they’re ready to fight any Right to Repair momentum. The Alliance of Automotive Innovation, a coalition of 37 automakers including all four listed above, is spearheading the lawsuit against Massachusetts’ law.

Just recently, Kia announced it has turned off wireless telematics systems in new vehicles sold in Massachusetts. The automaker says the law would require new vehicles to have an “inter-operable, standardized and open access platform” that they say does not currently exist. 

The company in an October 2021 press release warned of the possibility of deactivating those features, suggesting this move has been planned for quite some time now.

The aftermarket has made some promising gains over the past couple of years and is poised to continue that momentum into 2022 and beyond, but the Right to Repair battle will still be long, drawn-out and a hard fight. More than half of states in the U.S. don’t have a Right to Repair bill in the works, much less one pushing its way through a state legislature.

Organizations such as the Digital Right to Repair Coalition are working to fix that, and supporting their cause – as well as informing your customers about what Right to Repair is and why it’s important for them as well as for your shop – can go a long way in bolstering the movement to secure access to repair procedures and data.

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