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13/07/2016
Freedom of choice in the aftermarket: the Right to Repair campaign

Massimo Brunamonti

                          

The “Right to Repair” (R2RC) campaign was finally re-launched, after a few years,  by AFCAR (the Alliance for Freedom of Car Repairs in the EU), with a focus on digital and "connected cars".

The R2RC campaign, launched at the time of the famous "Decreto Monti" (Block Exemption Regulations), has always had, as its main objective, putting the pressure on European authorities to guarantee the possibility for independent garages to offer their services, granting all European citizens the freedom to choose where to turn to, allowing independent car repairers the opportunity to compete with dealers and official networks.

R2RC goes digital; digital technologies, according to AFCAR’s presentation, are changing our lives and our way of working and this obviously applies also to the car repair sector which has about 3.5 million operators and specialists providing a service to roughly 260 million motorists throughout the European Union.

Few things have contributed to the technological evolution of our cars as IT, influencing the way we drive and think about mobility. “Connected cars” offer a wide range of information, interconnections, services and  entertainment. Emergency e-Call systems, mandatory from 2018, are a prime example of this.

All of this will increasingly affect how the entire car repair network will operate; therefore, guaranteeing open and fair competition, without privileges, despite the advent of new technologies, is paramount, and essential for the sector’s future, not to mention the freedom for all motorists to choose what they think is best for their vehicles and for themselves.

To date, IT platforms, on which these technologies are developed, are the property of vehicle manufacturers who therefore have a privileged if not exclusive access, becoming sole providers of online services, including remote diagnosis and repair management.

Thinking about the long term, it is quite easy to predict that “connected cars” will become a powerful new "selling point"; thus whoever has the control of digital platforms will be able to exclusively offer a variety of goods and services: spare parts and accessories, insurance policies, restaurants and hotel bookings, and why not, a flurry of more or less useful products for motorists stuck in a traffic jam.

Talking about auto repair services, the growing tendency by many manufacturers to establish direct and exclusive connections between their vehicles and their servers, is a growing concern. Some have already stopped using the 16-pin OBD2 connector for diagnosis (for example Volvo for the XC90 model) and others are following suit. This means greater difficulties, for independent manufacturers of diagnostic tools, in developing their equipment.

In this scenario it is necessary to protect the rights of both the manufacturers and independent operators by ensuring free access to data and information; AFCAR is currently sponsoring the creation of a new regulatory framework  to guarantee open and competitive access to these platforms, making sure that the whole sector retains its competitiveness by raising the standards of services offered by modern and dynamic enterprises with increasingly qualified personnel.

The Digital Right to Repair Cars campaign aims to generate a growing awareness of the problem in garage operators as well as national and European authorities alike. The first steps were made in 2015 through a first meeting with some European MPs. Other meetings with EU authorities including the European Commission and members of the National Authority have already been scheduled for 2016. On the technical side, AFCAR representatives and other associations such as EGEA (European Garage Equipment Association), are currently working within the C-ITS forum established by the European Commission for intelligent mobility. This forum is directly involved in creating a new legal framework to regulate these digital platforms.

The political implications of these issues are huge: just as Charlie Chaplin’s great masterpiece, “The Great Dictator” is being premiered in a restored version, thinking about a car that becomes a point of sale, with  a "Great Dictator" are able to guide our choices, arouses in each of us a sense of unease and discomfort. The natural response is a resounding, “we do not need one”!

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