WASHINGTON—As 2001 unfolds, automotive aftermarket industry troops are marshalling for another go at a number of issues that have been around for quite a while.
Q: What will concern the automotive service industry on the legislative and regulatory front this year?
A: The paucity of state vehicle inspection/maintenance programs—and potential pitfalls with a plan to include on-board diagnostic system results in I/M tests—are far and away its biggest concern.
Robert L. Redding, Washington representative for the Automotive Service Association (ASA), told Tire Business he expects Congress to consider reauthorization of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2001.
"The NHTSA reauthorization will provide a lot of options," Mr. Redding said. "It will be the first legislative vehicle in a long time for the auto repair industry to try and put things in."
Tops on the ASA's wish list is a stronger mandate for the agency to promote state I/M programs as a vehicle safety measure. The association has striven to achieve this for years, Mr. Redding said.
Last Nov. 1, the ASA joined with the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators to host the first "Forum on the Future of Emissions and Safety Inspection and Maintenance" in Las Vegas. About 110 repair professionals and instructors, state and federal officials, law enforcement officers, tool manufacturers and auto manufacturing executives attended, Mr. Redding said.
The biggest item on the meeting's agenda was the lack of impetus toward creating uniform state laws for safety and emissions inspections. Only 24 states have I/M laws, the conference publicity noted, and those states vary widely as to inspection requirements.
Mr. Redding said he has been frustrated with NHTSA's ambivalence on the I/M issue, but expects the national mood created by the recall of more than 6.5 million Firestone tires—and the mandate created by the Transportation Recall Enforcement Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act—to change the agency's attitude.
"They're going to become more activist-oriented, simply because of Congress," he said.
Another potential cause of worry emanates from the Environmental Protection Agency, which has proposed incorporating the results of on-board diagnostic (OBD) checks into emissions inspection requirements.
The ASA shares with the environmental community a concern about a potential conflict of interest in an EPA proposal that would allow auto manufacturers and dealers to conduct the OBD inspection.
"We believe this would be a classic example of the fox guarding the hen house," said a coalition of 20 environmental groups that wrote to the EPA about the proposal, and the ASA concurs, Mr. Redding said.
"Automobile manufacturers have on numerous occasions engaged in violations of the Clean Air Act, particularly as it relates to emissions controls," he said in a Nov. 10 letter to the agency. "In the new OBD environment, the incentive to cheat is so great that OBD checks should be performed only by facilities not affiliated with the manufacturers."
In addition to these issues, the ASA continues to work toward ensuring that independent repair shop owners have full access to the diagnostic information and tools they need to effectively repair the new generation of vehicles.
Last October, the association announced it had joined with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers to support a national initiative to identify and resolve gaps in vehicle repair information and tools.
The initiative, which began with a pilot program in Arizona, has culminated in a formal agreement for the three associations to participate in a National Automotive Service Task Force to assure independent car repairers access to repair information, the ASA said.
Q: How does the ASA feel about the prospects for legislation under the new Bush administration?
A: "I think it will be total chaos," Mr. Redding said. "But that may work to our advantage."
Because of the very narrow Republican majorities in the House and Senate, and with feelings still running high after the most hotly contested presidential election in U.S. history, there will be little room for sweeping legislation that could upset the equilibrium of people who depend on small garages for a living.
"There will be nothing too negative for the small-business repair community," Mr. Redding said.
At the same time, he thinks the industry may have a chance to get smaller, more technical bills approved in the dearth of big-ticket legislation.
However, Mr. Redding added, "it worries me a little that President Bush chose a representative of the auto manufacturers (Andrew Card, former head of a major auto manufacturers' association) as his chief of staff."