The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) anticipates the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act ``could create major difficulties in implementation,'' a position that the Tire Industry Association (TIA) and other aftermarket groups find disappointing.
In a letter to Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, FTC Secretary Donald S. Clark noted that the Right to Repair Act ``has a laudable goal: To ensure the competitiveness of auto service and repair aftermarkets so that consumers have choices and can receive such services at competitive prices and quality.''
The legislation as written, he said, may be too complex and ambiguous to avoid unintended consequences. In particular, the agency could run into difficulties deciding which service and repair data should be protected as trade secrets.
Mr. Clark's comments gave at least provisional favor to the existing voluntary service information agreement between the Automotive Service Association (ASA) and major auto makers.
Groups such as the Coalition for Auto Repair Equality (CARE) and TIA, which favor the Right to Repair Act, expressed disappointment at the agency's stand and said it needed to take a second look at the legislation. The ASA declined comment, but an official of the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF), which oversees the operations of the voluntary agreement, said it was encouraging that the FTC recognized the value of the NASTF process.
Rep. Dingell, who is skeptical of the Right to Repair Act, asked at a recent subcommittee hearing on the legislation that the FTC give its opinion on the bill, since it is the agency that would have oversight if it were voted into law.
Regarding the FTC's objections, Mr. Clark said, ``Section 3(b)(1) (of the Right to Repair Act) would apparently put the FTC in the position of reviewing potentially massive amounts of highly technical information on an ongoing basis. The FTC is not equipped to perform such a function. It is a law enforcement agency, not a document screening agency, and has no analogous ongoing document review responsibilities in other agencies.''
Disputes between auto makers and the aftermarket about information disclosure, Mr. Clark said, ``would surely result in litigation, which would likely embroil the FTC in extensive and costly litigation between manufacturers and repair firms.''
The bill as written does not address potential questions about copyright or patent protections and is unclear whether auto makers should provide service and repair information free of charge, according to Mr. Clark. Also, Section 6 of the bill mandates that the FTC issue rules on a uniform method of making repair information available. ``Given the volume and complexity of the data in question, a one-size-fits-all approach may well introduce some costs and inefficiency to the existing processes,'' he said.
``The ambiguities of the bill would create significant controversies about what information must be disclosed as `necessary to diagnose, service, or repair a vehicle,''' Mr. Clark said. ``The FTC is not well-suited to resolve these controversies.''
Regarding the voluntary agreement reached in September 2002, Mr. Clark said: ``To the extent a suitable resolution can be obtained through a voluntary mechanism, it may be preferable to government intervention.''
Becky MacDicken, TIA director of government affairs, said TIA is disappointed by the FTC letter. ``We feel they do not have all the information they need to put out such a statement and wish they had contacted the industry groups that support the Right to Repair Act,'' she said. ``This will not stop TIA from pushing forward on the legislation.''
CARE was more upbeat, saying it at least appreciated the FTC's recognition that the Right to Repair Act has a laudable goal.
``We have confidence that the FTC has the ability to tackle the rule-making process,'' said CARE President David Parde in a news release. ``As the legislative process continues into the 109th Congress, we believe that the FTC will stand with us and the millions of consumers who own their vehicles but are currently denied their own repair information, thus locking them out of the personal decision making on how, where and by whom to have their vehicles repaired.''
John Cabaniss, chairman of the NASTF, noted that his organization is a work group, not an association, and doesn't take positions on legislation.
``But I was particularly pleased that the FTC pointed to the NASTF as having a pivotal role,'' he said. ``That's why a lot of people are making a lot of effort to make the NASTF work. It's a matter of everyone working together to address what issues there are.''