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Connected Cars and the Aftermarket: How High Are the Stakes?

Tuesday, June 19, 2018 - 17:00
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Facebook dominated the news this spring as it became apparent the company was harvesting tons of personal data from subscribers without their knowledge. Worse, the company was less than clear as to how individuals could control access to their data. I’m sure the Facebook debate is creating a lot of concerns in corporate America, including, and maybe most of all, by vehicle manufacturers.  

There should be little doubt that car companies have set their sights on data that is now available from connected vehicles. This data which contains some incredible insights into the tastes, driving habits and travel preferences (to name just a few) of their customers, would be incredibly valuable to the vehicle manufacturers, especially if they can sell it to interested third parties (which they already are). Further, if in the future when access to the on-board diagnostic system is limited, the only way to obtain diagnostic and repair data from a vehicle is through the manufacturer’s server, (often known as the extended vehicle), the manufacturers will become the gatekeeper for who can service a consumer’s vehicle. Not only will car companies be able to sell data to the repair industry, but they will be able to leverage their own parts sales for access by a repair shop to a vehicle’s diagnostic codes.

Similar to Facebook, few car owners are aware of the extent that data they generate while driving is being transmitted to the manufacturer or how that data is being used. In fact, our polling found that nearly 80 percent had no idea their vehicle was connected. Further, we recently held a number of focus groups where we asked car owners about vehicle data/access issues and nearly all responded that they thought the car companies had no business taking in their personal data, especially without their knowledge.

Congress is looking closely at Facebook and its practices while the vehicle manufacturers have chosen a different path. Instead of learning from what is happening with Facebook, the car companies are doubling down, attempting to placate regulators while continuing to collect data with little or no notice to consumers. It appears they are banking on the scenario that legislators and regulators will be too afraid to take on OEMs directly regarding data, fearing that any regulation will prevent advances in autonomous vehicle development now very popular in Congress.  

However, if our findings are correct, motorists have little desire to entrust their personal data to the manufacturers. Car owners demand choice on where they get their vehicles repaired, which is what led to passage of the right to repair ballot in Massachusetts by a whopping 86-14 percent margin.

We can hope the Facebook controversy wakes up the public, Congress and regulators that, absent any change in direction, we will be handing over the keys to car owner’s personal data and their access to a competitive repair market to the vehicle manufacturers. The Auto Care Association and other aftermarket groups are beginning to launch a legislative effort seeking to move right to repair to the reality of data access and control by the car owner. The stakes are high since the car companies are wagering much of their financial future on this data. However, the stakes are equally as high for consumers and the auto care industry where competition and personal privacy could be severely threatened. So what choice does the industry and the consumers have but to fight?

For more on this effort, visit www.autocare.org/telematics.

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