More than 200 tire dealers and auto aftermarket officials came to Washington Feb. 25-26 as part of the Aftermarket Legislative Summit to lobby their senators and congressmen for legislative reforms.
The summit is sponsored by a group of eight aftermarket associations, led by the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) and including the Tire Industry Association, the Service Station Dealers of America and the Coalition for Auto Repair Equality.
It was designed to give tire dealers, garage owners and auto parts manufacturers and distributors a chance to make their legislative concerns known to their elected officials. Washington representatives of the participating associations prepped attendees for the meetings with legislators and their staff members.
Three major issues dominated the agenda at the summit:
* The Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act, which would guarantee the right of independent auto repairers and replacement parts manufacturers to have access to all service, repair, installation, reprogramming and diagnostic information from auto makers;
* Legislation to reform asbestos litigation by setting medical criteria to determine who can sue, as well as limiting court and ``jury shopping''; and
* A bill to allow formation of Association Health Plans (AHPs), which would reform the Employee Retirement Income Security Act to allow trade, industry and professional associations to offer federally regulated health plans along state lines.
All of these are issues of elemental fairness to the aftermarket and crucial to its continued health, AAIA representatives said at the Feb. 26 briefing that preceded the day of lobbying.
The September 2002 agreement between the Automotive Service Association and the main auto industry associations-giving independent repair shops access to original equipment diagnostic data-is not legally enforceable, they said. This makes the Right to Repair Act, now sponsored by 53 members of the House of Representatives, a necessary bill.
Similarly, asbestos litigation has bankrupted several major aftermarket brake manufacturers while largely enriching only plaintiffs' attorneys, the spokesmen said. And AHPs would give trade associations for smaller businesses the same insurance purchasing rights as large corporations and labor unions, thus cutting premiums an average of 20 percent.
Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., has introduced asbestos reform legislation. Also, four House members have introduced a bill to establish AHPs, while Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, has promised to do the same in the Senate.
Larry Northup, director of government affairs for the AAIA, gave attendees some last-minute advice before they went off to keep their appointments on Capitol Hill.
``This is a sales call, so you need to be concise as well as prompt,'' Mr. Northup said. ``Give them enough information to support your position, but don't give them any more. Don't waste their time.
``Don't be intimidated,'' he added. ``They are there to serve you, and you're the expert on your industry-don't forget that. Keep it positive the whole time, no matter what you might be thinking. Talk up the good things our industry does, and as you know there are many.''
Anecdotes and actual experiences are extremely effective in talking with legislators and their staff, Mr. Northup said.
``They're very interested when you talk about how Grandma couldn't get her ABS brakes fixed because her garages lacked the tools, or how your brake distributor went out of business, losing hundreds of jobs, because of asbestos litigation,'' he said. ``But be sure the story is real and can be verified because they're likely to say, `I'd like to talk to that person.'''
The best thing to remember is that all members of Congress drive cars, noted Al Gaspar, AAIA president and CEO. He recalled a meeting with Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, R-Va., to discuss the Right to Repair Act.
``He said, `I know just what you mean. I bought a Saturn for my wife, but when I took it to Jiffy Lube, they told me they couldn't change the oil because they didn't have the right tool to remove the filter,''' Mr. Gaspar said. ``I asked him, `What did you do, take the car to the dealer?' He said, `I put the damn car up for sale. I was not going to have any auto maker tell me what to do.'''