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Cybersecurity and the threat to repair industry competition

Tuesday, March 19, 2019 - 07:00
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The independent vehicle aftermarket is clearly one of the great success stories in the United States economy. Despite the increasing sophistication of vehicle systems and attempts by vehicle manufacturers to capture market share, independents continue to grow and prosper through innovation and just plain good customer service. However, the ability of independents to compete is based on full access to the vehicle and the tools, information and software needed to provide repairs.  

In 2012, the Auto Care Association and Coalition for Auto Repair Equality successfully obtained passage of the Massachusetts “Right to Repair” law and in 2013, the subsequent Right to Repair Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that required equal access for independent repairers to the same service information, tools and software that manufacturers provide to their franchised dealers. While the right to repair laws have been successful for the most part in ensuring independents have the ability to work on late model vehicles, new challenges to competition in the repair industry are quickly emerging as car companies seek to lock down access to the on-board diagnostic system in the name of “cybersecurity.”  

The industry only needs to look as far as Fiat Chrysler (FCA), which for its model year 2018 vehicles now require shops, the technician and the tools to be authorized by the manufacturer before they can access the OBD system for many bi-directional repairs. Other car companies are looking at similar systems or are considering their own approach to cybersecurity that could force shops to access diagnostic data through the manufacturer’s cloud.      

Cleary, due to the security issues related to the connected vehicle, the days are numbered when a technician can plug into the on-board diagnostic port and pull off all of the data needed to repair the vehicle. Car companies will argue that the ends—a secure vehicle—are worth the means, i.e., a locked down port. It is critical to understand that with control of data comes market power, whether it is now or in the future.  

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It is not just the independence of the repair industry that is currently threatened. The ability to control data will provide the manufacturers with a significant leg up on other entities include fleet owners, car rental companies and insurance companies, all of which could become beholden to the manufacturer for the data they need for their operations. Think about a fleet of vehicles and being forced to rely on the vehicle manufacturer to obtain the logistics and health data for the vehicles you own.  

While cybersecurity is clearly an important issue, the independent auto care industry cannot let the manufacturers argue that they now must control access to that vehicle from factory to junkyard. Instead, it is important that the issue of cybersecurity be addressed in a manner that is standards-based and ensures that the control of the data is with the owner of the vehicle. The Auto Care Association has shown that this can be done through what is called the Secure Vehicle Interface (SVI). SVI offers a common language and set of interfaces for securely communicating vehicle information to third parties.  SVI was demonstrated at AAPEX in 2018 and more information can be found on the Auto Care Association website.

Which brings me to the latest action by our industry to ensure our competitive future. The Auto Care Association along with CARE, the Coalition for Auto Repair Equality, have been working with the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition to introduce legislation that would amend the state’s right to repair law in order to require that the vehicle owner has the ability to control where the repair data on their vehicle is sent. The legislation also seeks to take on actions by FCA to lock down the OBD port by prohibiting manufacturers from restricting access to the on-board diagnostic system unless access is standardized across all makes and models and that control over access is independent of the manufacturer.

The time has come to allow the innovations and competitiveness of the independent repair industry to continue to serve the motoring public. By removing the manufacturer as the gatekeeper for access to on-board diagnostic systems and the data that shops need to service their customers, the industry can do what it does best: provide affordable, convenient and effective repairs for vehicles. That battle is on for the industry’s future.

Additional information on the Massachusetts Right to Repair effort can be found at: www.massrighttorepair.org.

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