Conflicting views reveal a need to assess the progress and setbacks in the ongoing 'right to repair' battle.
Convinced that carmakers are dragging their feet on service information, telematics, and security protocols, the National Automotive Trades Association says it’s planning to take a much more aggressive stance to moving the existing voluntary agreement forward.
John Cochrane, owner of Cochrane Automotive, and the incoming president of the National Automotive Trades Association
The dramatic shift in posture became evident at NATA’s annual general meeting in January when new leadership was voted in, with a very clear agenda to widen the scope of the Canadian Automotive Service Information Standard (CASIS).
Incoming president John Cochrane says securing full access to security technologies and telematics data is critical to the survival of the independent aftermarket.
“It’s time to get things changed up,” Cochrane told CARS magazine. “The agreement that was struck nearly nine years ago does not reflect what is happening in the field today.”
It was designed to ensure aftermarket access to OE service information, tools, and training. Cochrane would like to see security protocols added to the list. Most carmakers provide that but some – notably Honda and Toyota – have still not made security information available to the Canadian aftermarket.
Ronald Tremblay, owner of The Garage in Vancouver, and chairman of the Automotive Retailers Association of British Columbia
Ronald Tremblay, owner of The Garage in Vancouver, and chairman of the Automotive Retailers Association of British Columbia (ARA), said the aftermarket is at risk of being sidelined if changes are not made.
“Things have been stale for nine years,” he said. “The car has not been stale for the last nine years. It has advanced incredibly far in that time but the collaboration between the industries, and the CASIS agreement has not advanced at all.”
He says a big problem is that not enough technicians turn to the CASIS website – www.oemrepairinfo.ca – when they need service information.
“If we want to demonstrate that the agreement needs to be revisited and some of the phrasing needs to be strengthened, we need a lot more users,” he said. “We have no choice. We have to rev that sucker up so hard that it breaks. Then we can expose where it’s broken and where it’s not serving us properly. We have to find the weak spots.”
Tremblay would also like to see more CASIS meetings – particularly the four sub-committees that cover service information, vehicle security, collision and glass, and tools and equipment.
“Clearly it was time for the torch to be passed. I’m glad to see people coming forward to figure out how to make this work, because technicians are the ones that are suffering.”
Diane Freeman, executive director of the Automotive Aftermarket Retailers of Ontario
“We would all like to see this agreement succeed,” said Diane Freeman, executive director of the Automotive Aftermarket Retailers of Ontario – a member association of NATA. “Currently, not all of the OEs are giving access to security information, and we’re simply saying that they must abide by the agreement that they signed.”
But their contention that CASIS is broken is not shared by everyone. Some key players in the so-called “Right to Repair” battle point out that there are no problems getting service information, and that vehicle security is supported by 14 of the 18 carmakers active in Canada.
“I don’t understand why some people want us to take an adversarial position against the OEMs. I just don’t get that. They’ve always been cooperative. They’ve done everything we’ve ever asked,” said John Norris, president of the Hamilton District Autobody Repair Association (HARA), and the current chairman of the CASIS task force.
“CASIS works well,” he said. “I will admit it needs an awful lot more publicity, and we’re doing that.”
John Norris, executive director of the Hamilton District Autobody Repair Association
Norris said a revamped website – www.oemrepairinfo.ca – makes it easier to find what people are looking for, and to date there have been very few legitimate complaints in about accessibility issues.
“There are very few complaints. They’re just not coming in,” he said. “They have all been irrelevant or minor.”
As for the notion of public meetings where service technicians, shop owners, and locksmiths can ask questions, Norris said there’s little interest in and no funding to pay for it.
The kind of meeting held by the National Automotive Service Information Task Force (NASTF) in the U.S., where hundreds of people turn out, is unrealistic for Canada, he said.
“I don’t think you’d get that kind of turn-out in Canada,” he said. “We tried to do it last year at the Toronto International Auto Show. We thought it would be a great opportunity to have a meeting there, but there’s just no funding for it. No one wants to support it financially.”
According to Norris, new technologies such as advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) are covered in the agreement under the term “successor technologies.” Nothing in the Canadian agreement prevents telematics from being covered under that term – something that cannot be said in the U.S. where it is specifically excluded.
“This allows the aftermarket to access data and repair new vehicles,” he said.
Vehicle security on the other hand is expressly not covered in the CASIS agreement, he conceded, but the majority of carmakers have made it available to the aftermarket in Canada.
“Rather than the rewrite the agreement, I’d like to see a concerted push to get the four hold-outs – Honda, Toyota, BMW, and Mercedes – involved,” he said. “Everything is being done to bring them into the agreement. We’ve met numerous times to convince them of the value of being part of the program. But the decision is theirs to make.”
Rob Lang, who was replaced as NATA president by Cochrane, says he’s worried about how OEMs are going to react to a more aggressive stance from NATA.
“If you hold the OEMs’ feet to the fire, they may well pull their feet out of the fire and walk away. This is a voluntary agreement after all,” he said.
“All the rumours and mudslinging that CASIS isn’t working and that there are lots of problems, I just can’t see that being the case. We haven’t heard about legitimate problems with CASIS. The complaints we’ve received often have to do with technology, where someone doesn’t know how to navigate the website. The other issue we’ve seen is the expectation that the information should be free. That’s just not reasonable.”
Freeman believes the small number of complaints NATA has received has everything to do with the time-sensitive work being done at independent repair shops, locksmiths, vehicle recyclers, towing companies, and collision shops. They simply don’t have time to jump through bureaucratic hoops in the course of a working day to get the information they need.
“I think we’re not getting complaints because there is so much frustration from technicians that they’re not even going to the CASIS website anymore,” she said. “When they have a vehicle in the bay, they have to get it repaired quickly. They need to get it in and out. If they can’t get service information quickly, they have to find a work-around. That’s what they’re doing, and they’re not contacting NATA to say they’re having trouble getting technical information. They’re just getting the car fixed and moving on.”
Tremblay concedes that some criticism of the CASIS agreement is rooted in a misunderstanding of what it covers.
“The actual content of the CASIS document itself — I read it through myself to make sure I understand it — is quite clear on what it can and cannot do. That has been very frequently reiterated through John Norris and Rob Lang for nine years,” he said. “The agreement is not particularly strong. Making information available is what it promises, but no one agreed to make it easy or sustainable.”
He believes the agreement will only be improved if the aftermarket is able to demonstrate its flaws.
“Over the last nine years, it’s not being used or exercised to the degree that it should,” he said. “AIA has gone to the federal government about this and the government has pushed back a little, saying, ‘We spent two years working on this agreement, and we’re not going to go to legislation just because you say it’s not working. Prove it.’”
He is encouraging shop owners and technicians to tell their local association what they think of the future of independent auto repair and the CASIS agreement.
“Give your feedback, whether it’s pro or con, because only with improved communication will we be able to secure the agreement that we need,” he said.
The CASIS agreement was signed in September 2009 by:
* Global Automakers of Canada (GAC) formerly known as the
Association of International Automobile Manufacturers of Canada (AAIMC)
* Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association (CVMA)
* National Automotive Trades Association (NATA)
In January 2011, another signatory joined the fray:
* Automotive Industries Association of Canada (AIA)
NATA affiliate associations are:
* Automotive Aftermarket Retailers of Ontario (AARO)
* Collision Repair Association of Nova Scotia (CRANS)
* Automotive Recyclers of Canada (ARC)
* Automotive Retailers Association of British Columbia (ARA)
* Automotive Service and Repair Association of Alberta (ASRA)
* Saskatchewan Association of Automotive Repairers (SAAR)
* Automotive Trades Association of Manitoba (ATA)
* Hamilton District Autobody Repair Association (HARA)
* The Saskatchewan Independent Automotive Providers (SIAP)