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January 2024

Hyper-tech cars under the lens of the European Union

Paola Zaccheroni

In defence of workshops, independent operators and consumer choice
On October 5th, the European Court of Justice made it clear that car manufacturers must give all repairers access to vehicle data: independent car mechanics, tyre specialists and body repairers have the right to use the information needed to diagnose, maintain and repair a car, under the same conditions as garages directly linked to car manufacturers. In mid-November 2023, the same court ruled that car manufacturers cannot refuse to provide car repairers (e.g. spare parts dealers) with the VIN number and all technical information of a specific vehicle in a format that can be processed by a computer. Meanwhile, a proposal for a regulation for the automotive sector concerning access to and use of vehicle-generated data is under consideration by European Commission President Von der Leyen.

What do these initiatives have in common and why the buzz? What is at stake that can fall back on independent mechanics and car owners? To put it bluntly: the acceleration of technology, especially in the IT sector, has created gaps - in the law, in politics - where those who are stronger can create business opportunities for themselves, even at the expense of the more vulnerable such as small business owners and consumers. The car repair sector is no exception. Since the European Commission’s primary role is to guarantee competition and the free market, this is the starting point for regulating the behaviour of all players.
However, alarm bells went off at grassroots level, in garages and independent operators in the automotive repair market. These businesses have finding it increasingly difficult and costly to obtain essential data from manufacturers in order to provide adequate services, and their chances of competing in the market were being dangerously eroded. The national associations of the independent aftermarket have taken up the call and passed it on to the European federations and inter-federation alliances (such as AFCAR.EU), which have made their voices heard loud and clear in Europe, for example at a press conference on 19th January, where they stated unequivocally that the Commission's regulatory inertia is harming consumer welfare and innovation in digital services for connected vehicles.

There is still a long and bumpy road ahead, since the rulings and regulations have to be implemented in each EU Country. In Italy, for instance, associations such as ADIRA, which defends the interests of independent spare parts distributors; AICA, which represents garage equipment manufacturers; Tekné for ADPA, the association of data publishers; CNA AUTORIPARAZIONE, representing workshops, are watching over this. These are allied in AFCAR Italia (the recently established Italian associations network which aims to protect the freedom of car repairer in Italy), and further supported by others such as ANIASA, which represents car rental companies and mobility software houses; Assogomma, the confederation of the rubber plastic industry; Federpneus, the national association of tyre specialists.

These organisations protect an extensive economic system that is deeply rooted in Italian society, and they are well aware of the risks associated with the increasing digitisation and connectivity of cars. On 15 January, these associations sent a letter to the Undersecretary of State for Technological Innovation Alessio Butti and the Deputy Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Galeazzo Bignami, asking them to support the legislative process of the sector regulation at the European Commission, which has been delayed, one suspects, by attacks from car manufacturers.

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