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Massimo Brunamonti

eCall/bCall: what are the consequences for car repairs?
Last year the European Parliament had several discussions on the subject of eCalls (emergency calls); this is a European Commission initiative which recommends that in future all motor vehicles should be equipped with an automatic emergency call system following an accident, with satellite localization and the automatic activation of emergency services. At the end of last year, Parliament asked the Commission to prepare a directive that would introduce the eCall in 2015.
The eCall platform has been tested and is in operation. Many manufacturers already provide a similar service, a kind of “business call” (bCall) as part of their technical assistance package. Briefly, it is a permanent telematics connection between the vehicle and the manufacturer. eCalls and bCalls use the same type of technology, the difference lies in who receives them: for bCalls it is the manufacturer; for eCalls it is the emergency services. So far, so good. But what are the possible implications?
Let’s look at two different scenarios. To date, whenever our car has had a fault we’ve taken it to our usual repair shop where the mechanic (or, rather, the mechatronic) connects it to his diagnostics tools to find the fault and repair it. In the bCall scenario, as soon as the vehicle develops a fault or needs servicing, a bCall is automatically sent to the manufacturer’s operator, who gives the driver the location of the nearest dealer who can repair the fault or carry out the servicing.
Undoubtedly “remote assistance” represents progress, but on the other hand the “closed” manufacturer-user connection could introduce a privileged position that is not in the interests of private citizens.
The Alliance for the Freedom of Car Repair (AFCAR) is emphasizing the problem at all levels. AFCAR, which represents more or less the entire European supply chain (equipment manufacturers, car repairers and spare parts suppliers), brought the importance of the subject to the attention of the European Commission. The hope is that an open standard for eCalls and bCalls will be defined in such a way that independent operators will be able to compete with manufacturers and their dealers and offer their services to drivers in accordance with the new Block Exemption Regulation.
The AFCAR proposal envisages that the eCall/bCall platform should be a public standard accessible to everyone. Independent car equipment manufacturers could provide car repairers with their alternative telematics tools by which drivers could be offered a bCall service in competition with the dealer.
Science fiction? Absolutely not: the technology already exists; cars are ready to become “smart-cars” and remote assistance would simply be a specific “App”. Why impose restrictions or permit monopolies?

New HFO refrigerant: the European Commission imposes observance of the rules
On 20th March it was announced that the European Commission had intervened at top level in the person of its Vice-President and European Commissioner for Industry Antonio Tajani with regard to the obligatory use of the new refrigerant gases in newly homologated vehicles.
The reason for such high level intervention is probably due to the unexpected position taken by the German government; a position that, strange to say, coincided with that of certain German car manufacturers.
A brief “summary of the previous episodes”. After many years of studies and tests aimed at replacing refrigerant gas R134 with a new and much less polluting solution, in 2006 the European Commission issued directive 2006/40/EC, the so-called MAC directive, according to which all newly homologated vehicles manufactured from 1 January 2011 had to use refrigerant gas with a Global Warming Potential (GWP) of less than 150. Gas R134 was banned, a bit like gas R12 several years ago. In the meantime, a new refrigerant gas was developed, HFO-1234yf, with characteristics that would meet the demands of environmental protection, production and handling. HFO gas had satisfied the authorities and manufacturers to such an extent that production began. But the process for making the new HFO gas came to a sudden and unexpected halt. In addition to the appalling damage we all known about, the Japan tsunami also seriously damaged the only fully operational plant for making this gas and it was unable to satisfy market demand. The European Commission therefore suspended the replacement of R134 gas until 31 December 2012 to enable HFO production to start again.  Shortly before the deadline at the end of 2012, a German manufacturer presented studies on the dangers of HFO gas and announced that it would not use it; subsequently the German government was hostile to the directive.
The question arises spontaneously. Why? Why only now? The tests on HFO gas and its alternatives went on for years and were carried out in the presence and with the participation of all European car manufacturers which, in the end, opted for this choice. The Commission issued the directive only after all governments, including Germany’s, had approved the initiative. Commissioner Tajani stated categorically before the European Parliament: “Let me very clear that the directive has been in force since 1 January and that it has not been extended (the suspension, Ed). The directive must be observed throughout the European Union. Because information has come from Germany concerning a problem, I am obliged to request information, but this does not mean giving them time, we are not weak”.
The Commission did well to impose the same rules for everyone; everyone had years to carry out studies and make suggestions before the decision was taken. What is to be said about the investments made by equipment manufacturers who have adapted their models to the new gas? Who will pay for the lost investments? Who will make up for the new jobs that will not be created? 

Liberalization and mechatronics: quality tools
For Italians 2012 was a year of big changes in all sectors: the various initiatives by the Monti government included two that are significant for car repairs: the famous Leg. Dec. “Simplification and Development” and Law 224 of 11/12/2012.
Previously Law 122 established that one of the prerequisites for practicing the profession was obligatory minimum equipment in accordance with a specially prepared list. This requirement was abolished by the Simplification Decree; now, theoretically, car repairers can do their work with their bare hands.
The other new development we mentioned earlier is Law 224 of last December by which the four categories of car repairers have been reduced to three: tyres specialists, body repairers and the “mechatronic” taking the place of the mechanic and car electrician. The disappearance of the car electrician is emblematic of this historic moment. Nowadays, the electronic/technological equipment in a car is no longer an accessory, it is the car’s brain and is as essential for its operation as it is a determining factor for its safety. It’s touching to remember those “happy days” when we bought a car and then went straight to the electrician to have the hi-fi installed. It’s certainly not like that now; the ever-increasing permeation and interdependency of electronics and mechanics makes a new generation of mechatronics necessary.
But does this not also mean modern and updated equipment? Operators are the first to be fully aware of the role played every day by adequate and professional car repair tools; the problem is who will guarantee their quality?
The subject is complex from many angles: tool technology is a specific field that interfaces with other branches like mechanics, electronics and telematics; users have to deal with an array of knowledge the vastness of which  often goes beyond the specific area; updating and training go arm-in-arm with tools to the extent that one cannot operate without the other. But citizens want safety and car repairers demand professionalism. We certainly won’t be sad to see the disappearance of the old list of minimum equipment envisaged by the previous version of Law 122; we wouldn’t know what to do with a “shopping list” that includes a 20 kg anvil and no diagnostics tools. What we suggest is that we all do our job well. If we need safety, then why not establish suitable standards for the supply chain so that it will be guaranteed?
When all is said and done, the new mechatronics law definitively decrees the development of the car repair world. The mechatronic is a modern, professional figure of a higher technological level, with more training, new abilities and innovative tools. We hope that is will also encourage the opening of new businesses or the re-qualification of existing ones by specializing and raising professional standards. But this can never happen at the expense of quality tools.

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