Ian P. Musselman, Senior Vice President, Government and Regulatory Affairs at LKQ Corporation which is part of the CAR Coalition, a group of independent automotive parts and repair companies, associations and insurers based in the US, talks to Auto Recycling World about the right to repair and how being a part of CAR Coalition can increase its awareness.
Ian, can you please summarise what ‘right to repair’ means, especially in relation to the automotive industry? How is modern technology in vehicles making it harder to replace parts, and are manufacturers adding to the problem?
Right to repair means giving consumers choices when it comes to repairing the things they own. In the auto industry, this means ensuring consumers have the ability to choose which parts are used for their repair – aftermarket or original. They should also have access to the data generated by their vehicles so repairs can be made. Under current regulations and an agreement between the repair industry and vehicle manufacturers, the goalposts are constantly moving and the ability to access key diagnostics is rapidly changing as telematics technology is being used for increased functionality. The manufacturers are taking full control of vehicle generated data and not putting it in the hands of the vehicle owners. This change in information sharing or lack thereof should be considered anti-competitive. As the Federal Trade Commission noted in a recent report, “Nix the Fix”, there are significant restrictions to consumers’ ability to determine their own repairs, the CAR Coalition is working on expanding consumer choices and options.
By being part of the CAR Coalition, how does this help make your case for the right to repair stronger, and how have you set about generating awareness for your cause, especially when lobbying the government?
The CAR – Consumer Access to Repair – Coalition has a diverse membership that has one common objective – putting consumers first in the maintenance and post-collision repair process. The coalition has become a strong voice for consumer choice through a combination of government outreach, public affairs campaigns, and thought leadership on these important issues.
We believe joining together with parts producers, dealers, safety certifiers, and insurers has been an effective way to advance the rights of consumers.
When you mention the right to use alternative parts instead of OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) parts, does this include reused parts from dismantled vehicles? What opportunities do you think lie ahead for the auto recycling industry, and what considerations should they be making when considering their role in the ‘right to repair’ movement?
Alternative parts benefit consumers by providing a more affordable vehicle repair solution to more expensive OEM-parts and reducing the average cost of vehicle repair by as much as 40%-60%. Importantly, alternative parts create competition which, in turn, forces car companies to drive down the cost of new OEM parts. In all respects, greater competition, lower costs, and lower insurance premiums are all direct benefits for consumers when they have access to alternative parts.
By requiring use of new OEM parts or creating a desert of alternative parts options availability can become a challenge for consumers. Due to supply issues caused by dealer or manufacturer lack of inventory, parts may not be available without long waits. We have seen instances where a manufacturer discontinues a brand. This is where aftermarket and recycled OEM parts can solve the problem for both repairers and the consumer without sacrificing quality, performance, or safety.
With so much emphasis on recycling and sustainability, is it the case that the time is right for consumers to be made aware of the options available to them to decide how to repair their vehicles? (This includes environmental factors and the various price points that each option provides. Also, this may reduce the number of ELVs as insurers may not need to ‘write off’ so many vehicles.)
Many people recognize the cost savings when utilizing alternative auto parts in vehicle repairs, but few understand the environmental impact of choosing those parts.
In 2017, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) conducted a study of the environmental impact the automobile recycling industry had in Massachusetts. WPI’s study verified that auto recycling is carbon negative and reduced the carbon footprint there. The analysis showed that 2.2 million tons of leading greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) was saved by reducing the need to refine new materials and manufacture new auto parts; this is the equivalent to 388,516 passenger vehicle emissions per year. This is why parts recycling must be a part of the conversation moving forward.
Do you think the vehicle aftermarket is big enough for everyone involved to have a fair share? Is this about creating consumer choice and making vehicles more sustainable?
There is always room for choices for consumers. That is the beauty of the free market. The goal of the CAR Coalition is to ensure consumers have choices and are aware of them.
So as you have explained to us the motivation for the CAR Coalition and the philosophy behind the ‘right to repair’, can you bring us up to date with the current situation and what the future may hold?
The CAR Coalition is actively pushing for legislation in Congress that will expand consumer choices, as requested by the FTC in their hearing in front of the Energy and Commerce Committee in July of 2021. The topic of the hearing was modernizing consumer protection. Just as automobiles are becoming more technologically advanced, the options to repair them must keep pace. Specifically, the coalition is actively working to advance the SMART Act, which will amend U.S. design patent law to reduce the time to 2.5 years that original auto manufacturers can enforce design patents against alternative parts manufacturers. In a recent nationwide poll, 92 percent of vehicle owners believe they have the right to choose where they should be able to have their vehicles maintained and repaired.
Currently, automakers have a 15-year window to enforce design patents on collision auto parts such as fenders and doors and other parts, crowding out competition. The average age of a vehicle has breached 12 years old. How long does a vehicle owner have to own their car before they can repair it at a reasonable cost? There are other pieces of legislation relevant to the control of data that could be moving soon. Overall, we are making tremendous progress.
About Car Coalition
The CAR Coalition is a group of independent automotive parts and repair companies, associations and insurers committed to preserving and protecting consumer choice and affordable vehicle repair by ensuring competition in the market.
To find out more about Car Coalition, visit carcoalition.com