BOSTON — A ballot victory in Massachusetts in favor of ensuring consumers' access to wireless vehicle repair data has issue organizers turning their attention to the national level.
Massachusetts voters, by an overwhelming 3-1 margin, approved Question 1 on Nov. 3. This initiative gives vehicle owners the right to data generated by their vehicles and available wirelessly.
Starting with the 2022 model year, car manufacturers must have systems in place to comply with the new rules. This access to information will allow vehicle owners to direct any potential repairs to shops of their own choosing instead of having to rely on dealerships, according to backers of the initiative, including the Automotive Care Association (ACA).
This latest vote builds on an initial "right-to-repair" (R2R) bill that was passed by Massachusetts voters in 2012 that first opened access to repair data but did not include so-called telematics, or wireless data. The latest measure closes what had become a loophole as vehicle technology has advanced in recent years, R2R proponents claim.
As part of a town hall meeting that took place Nov. 4 during the virtual AAPEX show, representatives from the aftermarket car industry spoke about the potential of using the Massachusetts win as a launching pad to work toward national adoption of vehicle owner rights.
That's what happened with the original 2012 right-to-repair Massachusetts ballot issue, as vehicle manufacturers agreed to a memorandum of understanding that opened data access nationwide. That was preferable to dealing with the issue on an individual basis in 49 other states.
"Most importantly, coming out of this, the consumers have spoken," Paul McCarthy, president of the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA), said. "They know that they should have choice on where and with what parts and technologies that their vehicles are repaired," said
"So our industry fights for the future of the aftermarket, but also on behalf of American consumers who rely on their vehicles every day for their jobs, for their family connections, for their safety," he continued.
"And in the end, that's what this is all about: consumer choice and retaining that competitive and free market. These are fundamental American values," Mr. McCarthy said. "Massachusetts voters have spoken with a loud voice and now we work to make this a national reality."
The Massachusetts battle was a multimillion-dollar effort, with proponents of the bill in the town hall meeting claiming automobile manufacturers spent nearly $30 million trying to defeat the measure.
The issue has been especially important to the ACA, which took a leadership position in pushing for approval of Question 1.
"It's a landmark piece of legislation that gives owners control of their in-vehicle mechanical data. Mechanical data needs to be available directly from the vehicle to independent shops if authorized by the owners or DIYers. It requires a standardized open access platform on all vehicles," ACA CEO Bill Hanvey said.
"The work is definitely not done. We can take a deep breath that we accomplished the first major step. And it was a major step," added Aaron Lowe, senior vice president of government and regulatory affairs at the ACA. "We won the battle. People have overwhelmingly said we want choice."
The focus now switches to auto manufacturers to see how they will comply with the new rules being established in Massachusetts, Mr. Lowe said.
"Really, it's in the manufacturers' court to some extent right now. The people have spoken, they said they want this, customers of the manufacturers. Now the manufacturers can come to the table and work with us to implement it," Mr. Lowe said.
"We won in Massachusetts, and it's important. But I think we all know the big prize is getting this done on a national level," he continued. "We absolutely have to have data access and data control for car owners around the United States."
The Massachusetts vote, Mr. Lowe said, will get a lot of attention on Capital Hill in Washington in 2021.
"I view this as a perfect opportunity to pivot … and use it as a springboard," he said.