A tough new anti-counterfeiting bill has passed Congress, but the counterfeiting of tires, belts, hose and other rubber goods remains a severe problem, Mr. Shea said.
The RMA is involved in an effort led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to identify countries in which product counterfeiting is particularly rife-China, India, Brazil, South Korea and Russia are the worst actors in this regard, Mr. Shea said-and pressure their governments to crack down on counterfeiters.
``It's not just the company but the consumer that's being cheated,'' he said. Cracking the bureaucracy of those countries can be difficult, he noted. ``I'm told that in China you get a lot of cooperation on the national level, but none on the provincial level.''
Mr. Shea is a member of the executive committee of the American Tort Reform Association, and the RMA will continue to work for Senate passage of the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act, which passed the House in October.
Among other things, the bill would set strict limitations on where personal injury lawsuits can be filed-thus preventing ``forum shopping'' among trial lawyers looking for judicial venues that grant large judgments to plaintiffs. It also would mandate penalties against attorneys who are judged to have filed frivolous lawsuits.
H.R. 2211, a bill to exempt service station owners from Superfund liability because of legally discarded used oil, was introduced last May. Although the bill has seen no action as yet, it now has 22 co-sponsors in the House, according to Paul Fiore, newly appointed director of government and business affairs at TIA.
A number of TIA members have been caught up in Superfund liability actions, particularly in New England. The association will continue to work for the bill's passage, Mr. Fiore said, although it's something of an uphill battle. ``Whenever there's a flurry of activity on this issue, environmentalists scream about polluters not paying their fair share,'' he said.
Right to Repair Act
This bill-the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act-remains the chief hot-button issue between the Automotive Service Association (ASA), which insists the legislation is not necessary, and other aftermarket groups such as TIA, which claim it is.
The TREAD Act mandate of tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) alone makes it crucial for the Right to Repair Act to pass, according to Messrs. Littlefield and Fiore.
``What a mess we would have if we didn't have access to the repair and service information on tire monitoring systems,'' Mr. Littlefield said. ``We're looking at 47 different TPMS suppliers, all with different systems. What a horrible situation for a tire dealer who has to send a customer to an auto dealer on a tire-related issue!''
But to Robert L. Redding, Washington representative for the ASA, the Right to Repair Act is merely distracting the automotive aftermarket from important and unifying issues.
The Right to Repair Act would set criminal penalties against auto makers that don't make repair and diagnostic information available to independent garages as they do to their own dealers. According to Mr. Redding, the September 2002 information agreement between the ASA and all major auto makers except Porsche, and the subsequent creation of the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF) make the bill superfluous.
The NASTF may not be perfect, Mr. Redding said, but it is functioning well.
``Unfortunately, this issue has taken far too many resources away from advocacy programs for the aftermarket,'' he said. ``We don't want the federal government overseeing our shops, and our members don't want the Federal Trade Commission sticking its nose in their business.''
At this point, both sides are getting mixed signals from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Right to Repair Act. Committee Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas, has said he wants to move ahead with a vote on the bill early in 2006, but other committee members are pushing for resumption of the negotiations that collapsed last September.
Association Health Plans
The ASA and TIA are united, however, on the issue of Association Health Plans (AHPs). If passed, this legislation would allow small business associations to negotiate across state lines for inexpensive health insurance premiums for their members.
``The House has never been a problem on AHP legislation,'' Mr. Redding said. ``It's as solid as a rock. Getting a bill in the Senate is doable, but that's as far as it goes.''
Some Republican senators have close ties to both state insurance commissioners and to Blue Cross, who are among the biggest opponents of AHP legislation, according to Messrs. Littlefield and Fiore.
Also, Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, dislikes the current AHP bill because it doesn't deal with state insurance mandates and wants to introduce his own bill, they said.
If there's any issue that really scares the ASA and its members, Mr. Redding said, it's the state legislation that began in California as an attempt to reduce greenhouse gases. So far eight other states have passed their own versions, most of them adopting the California law verbatim, and many others are considering it.
One of the bill's key features is a 15-year, 150,000-mile warranty on emissions control equipment. In Washington state, this ``super-warranty'' was expanded to include anything that would cause a vehicle's malfunction indicator light to come on.
``A mandatory warranty program would kill us,'' Mr. Redding said, adding that as many as 60 percent of the vehicles in the U.S. could be under super-warranties by 2010. The only way to combat this, he said, is for the ASA to work diligently at the state level to make sure independent garages aren't locked out of the program.
``In California, our strategy was oppose, oppose, oppose,'' he said. ``In Washington, we took more of a technical amendment strategy. That's what we want to work toward.''
NHTSA used to support making annual state vehicle safety inspections universal throughout all 50 states but has more or less dropped the subject, Messrs. Littlefield and Fiore said. TIA is working with the RMA to develop a model bill to roll out throughout the states over the next five to 10 years, they said.
The association is working to develop a model bill to introduce in the Maryland state legislature, they said. Maryland is a state with an effective, long-standing safety inspection program, they added, but currently it only requires inspections when the titles are transferred.
The Ohio legislature is considering a bill to license auto repair shops, according to Mr. Redding, and other states are working toward introducing such legislation. The ASA is very supportive of this effort.
``We hope state licensing initiatives will lift the industry up,'' he said. ``This will assure customers that you send your people to receive X number of training hours per year. We don't want legitimate auto repair businesses to see their profession slammed on the six-o'clock news."