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Mass. 'Right to Repair' bill could cause ripples in auto shop market

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Mass. 'Right to Repair' bill could cause ripples in auto shop market

David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington -- In the home of "Car Talk," automakers and repair shops are squaring off over the future of fixing cars.

In a battle joined by dealers, unions, auto parts companies and repair shops, automakers are battling a bill that would require them to disclose all the diagnostic and software they provide to dealerships.

The "Right to Repair" bill -- which passed the Massachusetts state Senate on July 6 -- and awaits a vote in state House.

If approved, it would be the first of its kind in the United States. Since 2001, similar unsuccessful efforts have been made in at least eight states and Congress.

Both supporters and opponents are spending heavily on lobbying and advertising before the final vote.

Supporters say the bill would lower repair costs and make it easier for independent repair shops to compete with dealers.

Automakers claim the bill could help make it easier to make cheap replacement parts -- and it could end up costing both dealers and automakers.

Both supporters and opponents will likely end up spending a total of more than $1.5 million before the final vote.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing Detroit's Big Three, Toyota Motor Corp. and seven other automakers, strongly opposes the measure, as does the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing foreign automakers.

They argue the real reason for the law is for parts manufacturers to get access to confidential company information to remanufacture original equipment and make cheaper versions.

"Our unlikely coalition of law enforcement organizations, Massachusetts business groups, labor unions, auto dealers, automakers and, most importantly, independent repairers recognizes that consumers already have the right to have their vehicle serviced by the repairer of their choice," said Charles Territo, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. "This legislation is, was and will always be about parts not repair."

Proponents say all repair shops need access to the software -- which they would agree to pay for -- to lower costs for consumers and fix all vehicles.

"Motor vehicles are now equipped with sophisticated and complex computerized monitoring and diagnostic systems, and complete and accurate diagnostic, service and repair information needs to be available to vehicle owners and all motor vehicle service industry sectors in order to properly, safely and affordably diagnose problems with, maintain and repair vehicles," said the Massachusetts Right to Repair group, an organization representing more than 1,000 mechanics.

Passage of the bill, called the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act, is important to the repair industry, said Paul Fiore, executive vice president of the Service Station Dealers of America.

"It is absolutely critical that an enforceable Right to Repair bill be enacted," Fiore said. "They are not seeking an unfair advantage, nor are they looking for access to the proprietary information protected by the bill."

He argues requiring automakers to share relevant repair and safety information with local neighborhood automotive technicians and repair shops won't put proprietary information at risk. "We don't need to know how they build their vehicles, just how to repair them," Fiore said.

But Territo noted that just last week a federal indictment was handed up in Detroit charging a couple -- including a former General Motors Co. employee -- with stealing hybrid technology worth $40 million and offering it to Chinese automakers.

"The passage of this legislation would set a dangerous precedent that could have a devastating impact on our economy. It would result in manufacturing jobs going overseas to places like China where the production of knock-off auto parts is big business," Territo said.

The New England Service Station & Automotive Repair Association, a group of over 400 independent mechanics, opposes the "right to repair" bill.

"It has become clear that this bill is a wolf in sheep's clothing. This bill will supposedly give independent repair businesses access to repair information and tools that car dealerships have at a similar price. Well, repairers can already do that," said Roger Montbleau, the group's president.

A letter from state Rep. Marty Walsh notes that 75 percent of post repair work on automobiles is already performed by repair shops other than dealers.

"The actual interests driving this legislation and its corresponding ad campaign are large, aftermarket parts companies looking to expand profits under the guise of consumer protection," said Walsh, D-Boston.

But the measure has been endorsed by AAA of Southern New England, which has over two million members.

Some law enforcement groups and others have raised concerns that if the information was available to the public it could make easier to steal cars.

The Massachusetts Police Association, a union representing police officers, opposes it, as does the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Their concerns have been highlighted in ads paid for by automakers.

"The release of this information would allow persons a considerable advantage when stealing not only Massachusetts vehicles but any vehicle utilizing this technology," the bureau said.

A similar measure has been introduced in Congress, but if it passes in Massachusetts and takes effect, the impact would be the same, automakers argue -- since the information would spread.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detnews.com/article/20100725/AUTO01/7250308/1148/Mass.--Right-to-Repair--bill-could-cause-ripples-in-auto-shop-market#ixzz0unbesejP

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