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06/11/2018
"Global Right to Repair Campaign" congress at Automechanika 2018

Massimo Brunamonti

It’s a small world; this is what one may think about when attending the "Global Right to Repair" congress which took place on September 13 at the Automechanika fair in Frankfurt.

In a scenario of ever increasing difficulties and unwillingness to communicate by car manufacturers, delegations from all over the world (Europe, USA, Canada, Brazil, China, Japan among others), discussed the possibility for independent specialists to access technical data and continue to provide their services to the market.

The situation in Europe and the USA, though similar as far as the issues facing the industry are concerned, differs quite a bit on the solutions. In fact, while in Europe car makers, or at least some of them, are going in the direction of having total control over their vehicle’s data, US manufacturers seem to be more willing to collaborate in managing the whole thing. Following this apparent availability, the National Automotive Service Task Force, dedicated to monitoring and arbitrating non-discriminatory access to data, was instituted. Actually, the NASTK seems to have been set up along the lines of the European SERMI, theorized but never fulfilled. In addition, the costs involved to access data is by no means secondary: access costs in the USA appear to be, at first glance, much lower than those in Europe and sustainable for independent car-repair specialists. However, not all that glitters is gold: US communication protocols and specific agreements (such as the Canadian CASIS) still present many restrictions and must be updated or re-considered all together. However, the need for a comprehensive and effective regulatory framework aimed at protecting the consumer remains.

Other parts of the world, Brazil, China, South Africa to mention just a few, are still in a preliminary phase in the sense that campaigns to protect freedom of access are now making their appearance on the market for the first time. The example of Brazil and China, for example, is quite significant. There the independent market is now undergoing an important phase of development, in direct competition with official networks or dealers who have, so far, been calling the shots.

The future, however rife with opportunities, requires special attention towards digital technology applied to automobiles. The most interesting aspect during the conference dealt with the scope of the changes taking place and the need to educate and sensitize the consumer in this regard. For instance: connected cars will be the unlikely vehicle for all kinds of information, even personal, between the car itself and those on board on the one hand, and anyone else connected at the other end. Which means that the other person, whoever he is, will not only know everything about me, whether driver or repairer, but will also be able to discriminate if and how to inform me and provide me with the necessary support, which represents a big step forward on the condition that no discriminations are made, let alone positions of control or monopoly.

The conclusion of the congress saw the unanimous position, by all in attendance, that the most urgent activity is educating operators and citizens alike on the implications that a patchy or non-existent regulation could have for a high risk sector. If you think about how much hackers are affecting economic and political activities, one cannot help getting the creeps thinking what this could mean for connected or self-driving cars.

In the end, having noted that much remains to be done, all delegations agreed to meet at the next major world-level trade fair event: Autopromotec 2019, during which it will be possible to take stock of an ever-changing scenario.

 

Data access and digital platforms: what’s happening?

The fact that connected cars, along with assisted/automatic driving systems, are the “talk of the town” in today’s automotive industry, is clearly evident in the advertising world. However, if assisted/automatic driving systems are still under development, connected cars are already a reality and both drivers and passengers can rely on on-board platforms able to reproduce, in all respects, the same functions found on their smartphones or the personal computers.

This is a crucial matter also for car-repair specialists since these same platforms are the ones through which most vehicle technical data should be accessed by both authorized and independent workshops.

Nowadays, though, the solutions proposed are diverse and rather patchy, to the point that the same subscribers of the famous (or infamous for some) "Extended Vehicle" protocol are far from unanimous on this solution. As a consequence, AFCAR, of which EGEA is a member, has commissioned Knobloch&GröhnGbR to perform a study on the current application of the same protocol by several car manufacturers to understand what is being offered and what future trends should be expected.

What emerged from the study is quite hard to define, both in terms of framework and usability. To date there are "on-board" solutions, i.e. with an in-built IT platform in the vehicle, as well as "off-board" solutions, or platforms “located” on remote servers, according to the “Extended Vehicle” protocol. In both cases, though, we find, to date, very few operating entities, while some have been announced and many others are still under development.

Delving a little deeper, we find that, when it comes to "off-board" solutions, the PSA group offers the most complete and operational platform; BMW follows with its Car Data, while Mercedes is still busy experimenting. Among the existing "on-board" solutions, we must mention GM with its NGI, and the ever-present Apple and Google with their dedicated apps, Car Play and Android Auto. Furthermore, Ford’s SDL and Volkswagen’s VIWI have both been announced as “in progress”. To complete the picture, other manufacturers have turned down the idea of developing their own solution and joined forces working as a consortium in the direction of "on-board" platforms.

Looking at the amount and kind of technical data now available to car-repair specialists through these platforms, the situation is frighteningly deficient if not alarming. The Knobloch & GröhnGbR study examines, among other things, useful technical data for car-repair and monitoring activities. The result is, taking the PSA case as an example, that out of a total of about 80 technical info for car-repair services available, 100% of them are available to authorized dealers, while only 33% to 50% of the data are made available to independent operators, with a clear discrimination between the two.

Among other platforms, Mercedes, to date, offers only 23 diagnostic test points, whereas it is estimated that the entire set of on-board diagnostic test points are, on average, in the order of a few hundreds.

The aggregated results of the study highlight that both existing and announced systems are all very far from constituting a viable solution for the car-repair business. Proof of this is the fact that no manufacturer is using any of them in their authorized workshops, not even with their own diagnostic tools.

And this is not the only weakness of current platforms. It is quite easy to predict that, even if the systems work (and there are serious doubts here especially in the case of "off-board" real-time data solutions), the problem will not be about transmitting data through one’s own platform; but rather how to make them available in a non-discriminatory manner and at the "right" cost, and here is where things get “ugly” especially for independent workshops.

We are all aware of illicit practices being already perpetrated by some manufacturers, such as limiting access to the OBD port to their authorized dealer only, and through their own equipment. The question is: what will the rules be to access new platforms?

In this scenario AFCAR could not help taking a stand and ask the institutions for rules that regulate safe and privacy-friendly access, available to anyone with the necessary expertise, qualification and equipment. To those who insist, as Extended Vehicle supporters, that no rules are needed, AFCAR, in addition to recalling the clear cases of illicit practices, responds that if access is possible for everyone then it should be written, specifying on what conditions and to protect safety, privacy and people’s money.

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