Auto Service World
Feature   October 2, 2009   by CARS Magazine

Voluntary repair pact lauded and lambasted

By:  David Menzies

A voluntary agreement recently struck between automakers and the National Automotive Trades Association – allowing auto shops to gain access to repair information, tools and training – is being both hailed and slammed by those in the automotive aftermarket industry.

Under the deal announced on Tuesday, domestic and foreign automotive companies have agreed to voluntarily provide service and repair information, tools and training to automotive repair shops. The deal is expected to take effect next May.

In announcing the Canadian Automotive Service Information Standard (CASIS) agreement at Rolland Levesque and Sons garage in Ottawa, Federal Industry Minister Tony Clement said the deal will lead to more competition and lower costs for motorists and that the voluntary accord nullifies the need for legislation.

Likewise, Dale Finch executive VP of NATA, said the deal will “increase competition in Canada’s service and repair industry for the benefit of Canadian consumers.”

Since the agreement is voluntary, the changes won’t require legislation.

Mark Nantais, president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, also applauded the decision.

“After several months of cooperative dialogue between the service and repair industry and automakers, we are happy to be implementing CASIS,” he said.

However, Scott Smith, director of government and industry relations for the Automotive Industry Association of Canada, is no fan of the voluntary agreement.

“It [the agreement] is a little bit of good news – and a whole lot of bad news,” he said. “From a technical perspective, there are several fundamental flaws.”

For example, Smith said there’s no stipulation in the agreement that requires manufacturers to provide flash downloads to independent shops – something the AIA has vigorously lobbied for since 2004.

Smith also has grave concerns about the opt-out clause in the agreement and the fact that a technician isn’t even permitted to present himself as being qualified to work on a specific make of vehicle.

Smith notes the Tuesday press conference announcing the agreement was expected. What wasn’t expected was the endorsement of the deal by Industry Minister Clement. “That was a surprise,” he said.

Even so, Smith said he still expects Bill C-273 (a.k.a., the “Right to Repair Bill,”) to go before committee for review later this month.

The NDP’s automotive critic and author of Bill C-273, Brian Masse, called the voluntary agreement “an ineffective sideshow” compared with his Right to Repair private member’s bill.
“No environmental or consumer protection rule is voluntary. No public safety measure is voluntary. A law is the only real protection for vehicle owners that is available,” Masse said in a statement.

Bill C-273 received preliminary approval in the House of Commons last spring and is due for committee consideration. But some observers are now predicting the bill is doomed because of the voluntary agreement.
Reaction by those in the trade has been mixed. Many auto shops and technicians have complained in previous years that a voluntary agreement would be unenforceable. Even so, others say the voluntary deal is a victory for the industry.

After the announcement, Masse raised the issue during question period.

“Today the industry minister admitted there’s a problem in the auto repair market. I thank him for finally coming to that realization years later. Not bad for his track record, to be quite frank,” said Masse. “However, he accepted a non-binding manufacturers’ agreement that will not protect consumers, does not ensure competition, is completely unenforceable. It is not worth the paper it is written on. The House voted overwhelmingly for a legislative solution like in Europe and the United States.

“Can the minister explain why Canadians are not going to get the same consumer, environmental and public safety protections as citizens of those other countries? Why does he think Canadians are second rate?”

“Quite the contrary, Mr. Speaker,” responded Clement. “We were able to work with the automobile manufacturers, both foreign and domestic. We worked with those representing the after market and garages that seek to do this work and we came up with a voluntary agreement that has mediation in it. It has a price structure in it. It has all of the details that are necessary to make sure that when people take their cars to a place other than their dealer for servicing, they can get the advantages of the repairs in that particular place. That is good news for Canadian consumers and it is good news for the Canadian auto market.”

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