Commissioner Roger Featherston last week told the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association (AAAA) 2016 Conference that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) will continue to look closely at allegations surrounding car manufacturers’ non-compliance with the voluntary Agreement on Access to Service and Repair Information for Motor Vehicles signed by industry stakeholders in December 2014.
Roger Featherston said the ACCC realised that access to service and repair data is an important issue for AAAA members and independent workshops. He said that under the current legal definition set out in the Competition and Consumer Act, for conduct to be illegal it must “. . . have the purpose, or be likely to have the effect of, substantially lessening competition.”
“Even though the conduct doesn’t contravene the Act, it may still raise issues that need to be considered in more detail. The effectiveness of the voluntary code of practice is an issue to be decided by the industry, and ultimately may be a policy decision for the Government,” he said.
“The ACCC will continue to look closely at allegations received from the AAAA, particularly if the conduct involves anti-competitive conduct,” said Commissioner Featherston.
AAAA Welcomes ACCC Remarks
AAAA Executive Director Stuart Charity welcomed Commissioner Featherston’s remarks. “The voluntary agreement signed by all industry stakeholders 16 months ago has not had any meaningful impact on the availability of vehicle repair and service information,” he said.
“The Competition and Consumer Act was not designed to address the emerging consumer issues created by rapidly developing technology in the automotive industry. To ensure a fair and competitive service and repair market for Australia’s 13.1 million car owners, all repairers need access to the technical service and repair information that the car companies’ are now only sharing with their dealers.
“This is a world-wide issue in our industry, but in Europe and the USA the car companies have agreed to share data. In Australia, these same multinational companies are discriminating against their Australian customers by refusing to agree to similar arrangements.
“The car companies tell the Minister and the regulators that vehicle repair and service data is made available. What they do not tell them is that the data they currently share is only the information they choose to release – not all the critical data required to fully service or repair vehicles.
“Key information missing includes service bulletins, software downloads, resolutions for known faults, pin codes for installing new parts, diagnostic settings and other safety and environmental data.
Growing Consumer Issue
“This becomes a major cost and convenience issue for consumers when independent repairers have to flatbed their vehicles to dealerships just to get a pin code keyed into a car’s computer system.
“The online Incident Reporting Portal we operate on behalf of the industry has revealed troubling issues. Retailers and workshops are now even having trouble supplying oils because the service manuals for many vehicles read: ‘Refer to dealer’ in the oil section. When you contact the dealer they say: ‘We don’t sell retail packs of oil. You have to bring the car to us to fill it with oil’.
“When you contact the oil companies, they advise that the car company has changed one of the additives in that blend, so they no longer have OEM approval for that vehicle. That means that you can’t put an alternative oil into that vehicle without risking voiding the warranty’.
“Such block outs to competition are a growing trend as advancing technology offers car makers more and more opportunities to withhold technical data. This strategy to progressively reduce the amount of information available to the independent aftermarket is clearly designed to steer more vehicles into their dealerships.
“This is why the aftermarket will continue to fight to ensure Australian car owners achieve the same data sharing arrangements that consumers enjoy in Europe and the USA. This is also why we are pleased to hear that the ACCC will continue to monitor this issue.
“This consumer rights issue has not been resolved through the current voluntary agreement. When you buy a vehicle, you should have the right to decide who repairs it. The consumer should not be forced to use any particular service and repair option,” said Stuart Charity.