US RIGHT TO REPAIR CHAMPION AUSTRALIA-BOUND
Autocare 2018 attendees will have the opportunity to hear from one of the event’s major key note speakers, the United States-based Auto Care Association Senior Vice President of Regulatory and Government Affairs, Aaron Lowe
Aaron brings more than three decades of experience in focusing on major issues affecting the success of the American independent automotive aftermarket industry. His work across several years in co-ordinating the Auto Care Association’s successful effort to achieve enactment of the Motor Vehicle Owner’s Right to Repair National Agreement between vehicle manufacturers and America’s independent repairers in 2012, has been widely acclaimed.
Lowe will make two detailed presentations at Autocare 2018, one each day on Friday May 4 and Saturday May 5 to advise on major issues that lie ahead for our industry. These include the advent of new technologies, such as the positive and negative influences of telematics and the shift from automotive components from being mechanically driven to being software driven along with other important issues.
Ahead of his visit to Australia, Australian Automotive Aftermarket Magazine had the opportunity to interview Aaron and gain his perspectives leading to this not to be missed Australian automotive aftermarket industry convention.
AAAM: You have had a distinguished three-and-a-half-decade legal career that has been almost entirely specialised within the American automotive aftermarket industry, can you tell us about the start of your career and how your industry specialisation came to be?
AL: I started my career in the aftermarket as a research assistant in the government affairs department of the Automotive Parts and Accessories Association which through mergers is now the Auto Care Association. Through the years I have been fortunate to have great mentors both within the association and in the industry. These individuals had the vision and commitment to impacting public policy in order to preserve consumer choice in auto repair and thereby preserve the future of the independent aftermarket. I have tried to carry on their legacy as best I can, aiming to ensure that our members will have the ability to compete despite changes to vehicle technology and efforts by vehicle manufacturers to gain the upper hand.
AAAM: It wasn’t that long ago that the USA was experiencing the same issues that both consumers and the trade continue to face in Australia in relation to the Right to Repair, along with the rights of the consumer to select who works on their vehicle. Can you describe the challenges that you faced when defending the rights of consumers and the independent aftermarket industry in the USA before you were successful in achieving the enacting of data sharing legislation?
AL: The biggest challenge that we faced was the political power that the vehicle manufacturers and new car dealers had both in Congress and in state legislatures. It was frustrating since much of this power was exerted behind the scenes and often was not apparent. Furthermore, we had to battle unsubstantiated claims by the vehicle manufacturers that right to repair would result in the exposure of trade secrets and that independent repairers were not qualified to work on late model vehicles. However, once we took the issue of right to repair to the people as part of a right to repair ballot question in Massachusetts, the manufacturers lost by an overwhelming 86 to 14 percent landslide. Clearly, car owners trust independent repairers and value the choice they have on where they have their vehicle repaired.
AAAM: The tide turned when you were able to enact legislation, starting with a single US state, Massachusetts, that forced the hand of the car manufacturers to play fairly with independent repairers. Can you tell us about the initial reaction from the manufacturers and the subsequent nationwide success that followed?
AL: Actually, once we won the right to repair ballot question in Massachusetts, we developed a good working relationship with the groups that represent the vehicle manufacturers and I think everyone was committed to negotiating a good national agreement on the Right to Repair. Also, it’s been great to see many of the car companies proudly promote the diagnostic and repair systems that they have developed as a result of Right to Repair. It is not perfect and we are still closely monitoring the car companies to see if they are in compliance with the requirements; however, thus far we feel that Right to Repair in the US has been successful in what it sought to achieve.
AAAM: As you and your colleagues at the Autocare Association are assisting the AAAA to achieve the same goals that you have achieved in the United States, can you describe the similarities or differences between the aftermarket industries of our two countries?
AL: I am sure that I have a lot to learn about the aftermarket in Australia, but I think that one of the biggest differences is the large number of different vehicle makes that you have in Australia versus what we have in the US. This has got to pose significant challenges to everyone in the supply chain in your country. However, I think in a lot of ways we have similar car cultures in that people love their cars in both our countries. This love affair with cars combined with a historical culture of competition in the repair industry, has translated into a vibrant independent aftermarket in both our nations.
AAAM: The USA, together with the global automotive aftermarket industry, now faces the advent of new car manufacturer developed vehicle data communication technologies such as telematics and so forth. Is this the next major challenge in the United States and what challenges does it pose for Australia as well?
AL: The advent of connected vehicles holds great promise for the aftermarket, permitting our industry to more efficiently and effectively provide services to car owners. By being able to obtain diagnostic information from a vehicle while it is on the road, repairers will be able to ensure that they have the right part and information at a service bay before the car has even arrived. This is only one example of how telematics could transform the vehicle repair market in the very near future, there are many more. However, these benefits can only occur if we gain access to the data that now only flows to the vehicle manufacturer. I think that the US is further ahead in the number of connected vehicles already on the road. By 2020, about 90 percent of new cars in the US will have some type of connected technology.
AAAM: What is your opinion Aaron – is it the consumer who owns their car’s service and maintenance data, or the car manufacturer? Is this another method for car manufacturers to bypass independent repairers, despite the successful co-operation that has been achieved between the car manufacturers and the independent aftermarket in both the USA and in Europe?
AL: I strongly believe that the consumer not only owns the data transmitted by a vehicle, but they have the right to control that data as well. I think that the vehicle manufacturers would gladly concede that the consumer owns the data, if they could control data. This means they could use the data to build better relationships with their customers, improve their knowledge of parts performance on the road or they could sell the data to third parties such as insurance companies that would also like to have access to increased knowledge of the motorist. I think that the manufacturers believe that if they can control the data, that they will ultimately be able to control the vehicle aftermarket.
AAAM: Are there any other specific issues that can be detrimental to the success of the independent aftermarket in the United States at the present time?
AL: Yes, vehicle components are now coming with embedded software that is taking the place of mechanical features. They are using US copyright law to attempt to prevent independent parts manufacturers from accessing the software necessary to build and install non-original equipment parts. While we ultimately believe that the courts will eventually prevent this happening, it could have a chilling impact on the aftermarket in the short term.
AAAM: The Auto Care Association is responsible for one of the world’s largest annual automotive aftermarket industry trade fairs, AAPEX. It was clear to see at AAPEX 2017 that the United States automotive aftermarket industry is continuing to grow and diversify very strongly, while international companies seeking export opportunities are also on the increase. What is the general consensus about the state of the industry from a local and international perspective after AAPEX 2017?
AL: AAPEX 2017 was a major success. With expected growth in the industry at a healthy 3.6 percent for 2017, I think everyone came away from Las Vegas with the feeling that the industry continues to be in a strong position for the future.
AAAM: It is very clear that you enjoy your work and the challenges it has presented over the past three and a half decades. What have been the major highlights of your career with the Autocare Association?
AL: I think that passage of Right to Repair in Massachusetts and the subsequent signing of the National Memorandum of Understanding with auto makers in 2013 was clearly a highlight of my career. Ensuring that independents have access to the tools and information in order to compete with the franchised dealers for repair of late model vehicles was a long and difficult battle, but it was one we had to fight. However, there have been many issues that I have worked on during my career that I hope have positively impacted our members. This industry has some great companies with smart and dynamic leaders. These past and current executives have built an amazingly competitive industry that ensures that when a consumer brings a vehicle for service in the morning, that all of the parts, tools and information can come together to ensure that in the evening the car is ready for the consumer to pick up. It is an amazing untold story and one that I believe most consumers and legislators fail to appreciate. I am proud to play at least a small part in the industry’s success every day.
AAAM: We will be hearing from you in more detail as one of the major key note speakers of the inaugural Autocare 2018 Convention in Sydney during the first week of May. How important is it for members of our industry, no matter how small or large their automotive repair, component manufacturing or parts supply businesses is, to be informed and prepared?
AL: The entire motor vehicle industry is going to go through a revolution in the next several years. Connected and autonomous vehicles, the growth of electric and other non-gasoline powered vehicles are all going to change how and by whom vehicles are serviced. In order to stay in the game, companies need to pay attention to these changes because the future is actually being written now, both by policy makers and by vehicle manufacturers. Yes, it is critical that companies stay involved in the legislative and regulatory efforts, but it is also important that they watch the future in order to plan their business strategies. Running your company in a vacuum is no longer an option.
In addition, I think the challenges we are facing as an industry are not limited to one country, but are happening on a global playing field. The Australian automotive aftermarket is fortunate to have great leadership from the AAAA. I am looking forward to continuing the great relationship that Auto Care has with the AAAA and I am very excited to visit everyone in May to discuss how we can jointly tackle some of these global challenges.
For two distinct presentations by Aaron Lowe on Friday May 4 at 2:00pm and Saturday May 5 at 9:30am, be sure to register to attend Autocare 2018. Lowe joins a host of Australian and international key note speakers participating in this important industry convention.
Full Autocare 2018 Convention information, online registration and payment can be found at www.autocare.org.au