Question 1 on the Massachusetts ballot passed with three quarters of the vote, settling the Right to Repair issue in the state and updating a previous law. Now, its passage could have national implications for auto maintenance and repair operations.
The ballot question requires automakers to create a standardized digital platform that makes certain telematics information available to all Massachusetts repair facilities—not just to dealer shops.
Groups spent millions of dollars campaigning on both sides of the issue. The Auto Care Association and related aftermarket groups, along with independent shops, campaigned in favor of Right to Repair. A coalition formed by automakers opposed the measure.
“It was a very ugly fight, but we are not a bit surprised,” says Joanna Johnson, policy advisor for the Automotive Oil Change Association, one of the groups aligned in favor of Right to Repair.
What does this exactly mean for independents and consumers? If you haven’t been keeping up with the right to repair initiative, here’s a recap of the action and a preview of what’s to come.
The first Right to Repair bill in Massachusetts passed in 2012 and aimed to extend diagnostic vehicle information to independent repairers. That bill and subsequent law exempted most telematics information, which wasn’t as widely used at the time. Massachusetts was the first to pass such a measure.
Now, telematics information is much more relevant. Commercial fleets have been the bellwether group showing growth. Sandeep Kar, the chief strategy officer at Fleet Complete, said that 19.5 million commercial vehicles subscribed to some kind of telematics service in 2015. By 2025, that’s estimated to be 63.5 million vehicles—more than triple the 2015 figure, he said during his presentation at the AASA Technology Conference in the fall.
The concern was that more and more critical diagnostic information would only be transmitted wirelessly, rather than through an OBD-II port, and become off-limits for much of the independent repair sector.
Johnson has been tracking the issue from the beginning. With the help of independent shops and other key associations, like the Auto Care Association, the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition was able to get this issue in front of 2020 Election voters, and the rest was history on Nov. 3.
What does this outcome mean?
The big change to come from the passage of the ballot question is that OEMs will need to create a standardized platform for access to telematics information. This would be available to repairers and vehicle owners.
The implication could be national, because it might not be feasible to create this telematics platform only for vehicles in one state. A report by Tufts University’s Center for State Policy Analysis examined the ballot question before the vote, noting that the initial 2013 law spurred a larger trend.
“It’s possible the same thing will happen again, with the 2020 sequel setting terms for nationwide standards around telematics data,” the report says.
According to Johnson, the passing of this bill also upholds the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, which prohibits OEMs from branding products and services strictly to the vehicles they manufacture and providing access for all repairers in the industry, including on telematics.
Overall, she says it keeps the market competitive and tosses the fear aside of OEMs eliminating independent automotive businesses all together.
What’s happened since the vote?
While this is a huge step forward, the fight is far from over, according to Johnson.
Just a few days after the passing of the bill, Johnson says automakers have spoken out about the issue trying to stop the right to repair bill from moving forward. Their argument has revolved around issues of privacy and cybersecurity.
Johnson says that the aftermarket has already proven that giving access to independents doesn’t make the data any more hackable than it would only in the hands of OEMs. Johnson says this fight with OEMs won’t be over until the bill is enforceable.
What can we expect?
Johnson expects telematics data to become available in the 2022 model year’s vehicle software. She also expects a broader movement to take the state’s Right to Repair platform to a national audience.
“They aren’t going to make vehicles only made for Massachusetts,” Johnson says. “If one state makes that change, everyone has to make that change.”
The specific terms aren’t settled, however, and automakers could still shape the outcome and could find ways to restrict access or require payments. Each OEM might have its own mode of access or tools. The report from the Center for State Policy Analysis noted that many unanswered questions remain, including how a mobile app might work and how cybersecurity will be addressed.
If there’s a universal security platform, there could still be a minor cost associated, but Johnson says it should remain small. What it really comes down to is proving the customer has a right to their vehicle’s data.
“If the customer has a right to it, you can’t make it prohibitively expensive,” Johnson says. “What’s a right that you can’t afford?”