By on November 30, 2020

Despite Massachusetts voters approving a ballot initiative giving customers and independent repair shops more access to the massive amount of data being tabulated by modern cars by a sizable margin, automakers haven’t given up their unpleasantly consistent opposition to the right-to-repair movement. Backed by consumer advocates, unaffiliated repair shops, the aftermarket community, and those interested in D.I.Y. projects, the movement has made meaningful headway in MA under the updated laws. Vehicles that collect and transmit information back to the automaker manufactured for 2022 (or later) model year are now required to be paired with a standardized open-access data platform accessible by owners and anyone else they feel should have access.

But the automotive industry continues to claim these mandates would be impossible to comply with on such a short timeline and has launched a federal lawsuit that the revised rules create a massive security risk in terms of customer privacy and vehicle safety. We’re inclined to believe this is an easy way for legacy automakers to buy time so they can ultimately find ways of not adhering to the updated laws so they can continue benefiting from being the sole purveyor of the data. But we’re willing to entertain their case before making any final rulings — not that it will have any impact on the official case.

According to Automotive News, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation (AAI) filed a suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts on November 20th, requesting that the law be found “unenforceable because it is unconstitutional” and in conflict with existing federal laws. The group, which represents the majority of the world’s largest automakers, is also asking the court to “temporarily and permanently” block the law, which is slated to take effect before December 3rd, 2020.

When asked to clarify on which grounds it’s making these claims, AAI stated that it couldn’t offer any additional comments on pending litigation. Member organizations simultaneously suggested we reach out to the representing trade group for more information on the issue.

Truth be told, we’re under the impression that automakers simply don’t want to give up the monopoly they currently have on driving data. Many have previously discussed how data would become an essential part of the business as they transition into “mobility firms.” We’ve started to see this manifest via in-car advertising, comprehensive marketing databases, enhanced forms of fleet management, and partnered insurance deals — where customer driving behavior is tracked 24/7. But they’re just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The industry thinks it can effectively use the glut of connected vehicle data it’s amassing to compete with social media giants. Unfortunately, it becomes substantially less valuable to automakers once it’s been made widely available.

I have said before that I cannot be objective on this matter and support the right-to-repair movement in almost every case. Purchasing a new vehicle should not mean that you’ll also be moonlighting as a data farmer transmitting valuable information to automakers that don’t bother paying you for your time despite reaping all the rewards. Frankly, I’d like to see most data acquisition done away with — especially if automakers are claiming it’s a gigantic security risk in the first place. The very least the industry could do is give customers direct access to the portion they’re creating and don’t benefit from directly.

The only nugget of news we’re able to take away from this is that it might be difficult (if not impossible) for the industry to adopt a standardized system for sharing the data before 2022. Consumer advocates claim that just giving independent shops the same tools they use should be sufficient in the short term but the law stipulates there be a universal open-access way of scooping out the relevant data.

From AN:

Robert O’Koniewski, executive vice president of the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association, said it is “virtually impossible” for automakers and franchised dealerships to comply with the revised law at this time.

“From the perspective of the manufacturers, I don’t know how they’re going to comply from the timeline because it’s just not realistic,” he told Automotive News. “It takes anywhere upwards of three to five years on development of a model-year vehicle.”

Automakers can begin selling 2022 model-year vehicles as early as Jan. 2. Dealers will almost certainly have some 2022 models on their lots by at least March, said O’Koniewski, who has strongly opposed the ballot initiative.

When Massachusetts’ right-to-repair law was enacted in 2013 and adopted a year later as a national standard by automakers and independent repair shops, the law applied to vehicles starting with the 2018 model year.

“I advised legislators and other interested parties on that fact: that manufacturers just don’t put together a model-year vehicle the year before,” O’Koniewski continued. “There is three to five years of research, development, planning, engineering and manufacturing that goes into it.”

That timeline sounds about right but we’re not brimming with sympathy for the industry, even if right-to-repair laws end up going national. Automakers’ increasingly obsessive practice of data hoarding has become genuinely frustrating and frequently fails to provide evidence that the consumer has much to gain as part of the arrangement.

[Image: CAT SCAPE/Shutterstock]

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16 Comments on “Automakers Continue Battling Right to Repair Laws in Massachusetts...”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Good summary.

    “…the Alliance for Automotive Innovation (AAI) filed a suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts on November 20th, requesting that the law be found “unenforceable because it is unconstitutional”

    “When asked to clarify on which grounds it’s making these claims, AAI stated that it couldn’t comment on pending litigation”

    They already commented, apparently, but now they don’t want to reveal how baseless their claims really are.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      It’s a shame that more reporters don’t bother to set up a PACER account. Anyone can do that, not just lawyers. IIRC, there’s no charge for having the account, just 4 cents a page for accessing documents.

      All documents in federal court are filed electronically, and every court has a portal for accessing the PACER system. So, anyone with an account can download and save any document filed in any case (except those rare documents filed “under seal”). It’s a pretty easy system to use, and viewing the document — even a non-lawyer’s view — would at least partially answer this question. That, of course, includes opinions written by the judge or, in the case of appellate courts, judges.

      Just a constructive, low-cost suggestion . . .

  • avatar

    You can be objective and come to the conclusion that supporting “Right to Repair” laws is the correct answer. One front of the battle is accessing the technology in the vehicle for needed repairs so consumers are not beholden to the dealership. Why anyone, i.e. consumers, would oppose this is beyond me. I don’t have a problem even paying a modest one-time fee for access. I’ve done so by purchasing FSM for every car I’ve owned – a few hundred dollar investment for each car. But I also expect that I should be able to do whatever a dealer does provided I have the tools. I can’t accept a firewall blocking my access.

    The other issue is data ownership and here the manufacturer is trying to protect their new cash cow. I can’t accept giving my personal information away. To be fair they probably do need more time to comply with the new law, but you are correct in that they are not going to use more time to comply but to find ways to eliminate the law. You would think that people would want to protect their personal information and not be such sheep when it comes to handing over their data. But the generation of digital natives really does not care, at least most don’t. Even older people who perceive value from apps and search engines often just accept it as the cost of doing business. Witness the number of comment hits here at TTAC when it comes to privacy and data stories and contrast that with the volume of comments on (pick your poison) politics, electric cars…the amount of people ok with selling out their freedoms to big business for a cool app way outstrips those who want no part of such a sellout. The tech world knows this and give it another 8 years or so before all privacy is gone. You know the snitch programs that the insurance industry coerces you to use will become mandatory – it will be built into your car and you will have no choice. So, unless the sheep become more ram-like our privacy is going, going, gone!

  • avatar

    I could totally see automakers trying to create a “Walled Garden” like Apple does so you can only get parts, repairs, accessories, etc from the mothership. Rope you in for life, make it too arduous to switch brands.

    Apple has made a fortune off of owning the devices you buy from them long after they fall into your hands and leave the retailer. Welcome to Apple, you get to pay more for everything. I could totally see the same type of market spring up around cars especially as they become more technical. Where buying the car, as expensive as it is, is really just keys to your wallet for years to come.

    • 0 avatar

      Apple is the benchmark that the automakers are aiming for – sue independent shade tree mechanics or simply block them from being able to purchase diagnostic equipment to troubleshoot or repair.

      Apple goes even further by telling suppliers to NOT sell their chips to anyone other than Apple. Their scare tactics are similar to what the car companies attempted to do but failed to in MA.

      Apple is now busy attempting to water down a bill that would restrict the importation of goods made with slave labor in China.

      This is not a good company.

  • avatar

    Good article Matt. The Mass legislature has delayed referendums in the past that needed more time for implementation like the cannabis law. That would have been a better route for the dealers. A proper interface could be hammered out in a few months. One possibility is something similar to the libgphoto2 library that provides an open source interface to control digital cameras. It has interfaces that allow you to discover the capabilities and data in a particular camera.

    As far as the generated data, I think by default it should belong to the owner of the vehicle (or web browser) and be treated as a copyrighted work. If someone wants to use the data, they have to pay a royalty.

  • avatar

    A few thoughts…
    1. the industry really needs an OBD III standard that covers both a new port and a wireless data protocol, and a shedload of new codes. OBD II / EOBD codified a bunch of DTC codes and a lot of the modern vehicle wireless communications infrastructure is based off expanding and stacking more and more legos on top of that archaic foundation. This -CANNOT- be done at the state level, this needs to be done Federally, and it really needs doing.

    2. lol 2022 good luck kids far more likely is the OEMs disable data collection in Mass vehicles until something comes together.

    3. The “security” / “safety” aspect – everything on a modern car talks. Restraints, powertrain, GPS, onboard mics, all of it is on the same network. A good security model would let you pull data and keep everything else safe, but here’s the deal: the median car age is 12 years. The -median- car just got the enhanced side impact regs, hasn’t been updgraded for SORB, and hasn’t even installed Windows Vista Service Pack 2. I’ve got a lot of concerns about vehicle security in general, and there’s no part of “let’s smash together an open data standard in like 12 months that makes it easy for Tom, Dick, and Harry to talk wirelessly with my unpatched Windows Vista laptop” that makes me feel any better about that. You’re not going to be able to install Kaspersky on your beater Civic.

    4. I think there’s room for the Feds to step in on data collection and make a few rules. Some of the data collection is good (OEMs can get info about crashes automatically, especially stuff like airbag non-deployments), some is reasonably benign (OEMs can query DTCs remotely and find quality problems in the field before they really show up on a trend chart and do fixes / recalls faster, and do things like count how often you use a feature to update specs and change feature segmentation), and some of it is concerning (OEMs can see what you search and where you go on GPS, can pull the speech-to-text transcript, etc.). I think it’s worth setting up some fences about what the companies can collect, and what they’re allowed to share with any other company. I think a really big item would be forbidding insurance companies, or banks / lenders, or say apartment buildings from requiring data communications from a car.

    • 0 avatar

      “This -CANNOT- be done at the state level, this needs to be done Federally, and it really needs doing.”

      The problem is that the Feds are doing nothing. We’re fed up with the situation and decided to do something about it. What we need is for other states to get on board to apply more pressure.

      As far as the interface goes, a good start would be an interface/listener to pick up the packets being transmitted on the bus along with documentation. In robotics we use ROS and that might even be a suitable interface. Some of the OEMS might even be using it already. If not, whatever they’re using now could be translated. It would save a lot of time and there’s a lot of ROS expertise, hardware, and software out there. It’s a standard in robotics and many robots are very similar to cars now. I can’t think of any issues that would limit it. Everything is already defined.

      OBDXX wouldn’t really work. It’s too limited/ ROS includes things like motor rotation and position. Sensor data. Camera data. Locational data. It’s all there.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree the Feds are doing nothing, but better to have a national standard than a balkanization.

        I’m not familiar with ROS, but I do know that automotive ECUs are both simple / dumb (read: cheap) and hideously well verified. You wouldn’t load something like that onto a seat module or even the body ECU. Maybe the infotainment module, but that should honestly just be running QNX Auto, which is the de facto standard.

        The more I think about it, the more it really smells to me like Mass really just wants an OBD III: add wireless, make the port not suck, add some concept of security, and add a shedload of new codes.

    • 0 avatar

      Everything is not on the same network. Many cars have two or three networks with unregulated items on their own bus getting info off of the other bus through a gateway module. Powertrain, restraints and ABS/stability control are the only systems required to be on the High Speed CAN Bus.

      No need for “new” codes the mandated ones are pretty full already and every mfg can add their own codes for those unregulated systems or where they have something more sophisticated that what is required by law.

      • 0 avatar

        I still think ROS is the way to go and the best way to aggregate the signals. In fact, ROS has CAN drivers. The automakers are familiar with ROS, so it’s not a huge hurdle for them. In fact, I just saw several positions at Ford for ROS engineers. Same at BMW and Daimler. Even one at Lucid. Also, an important feature of any interface is “discovery”. That way you can design diagnostic software for multiple vehicles that adapts to new features.

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    My current car is a 2016 Subaru Forester. Fortunately, it has no driver assistance technology nor any internet connectivity installed. I intend to keep driving this car as long as I can because of issues like these in vehicles rolling off the assemlby line today and going forward. If I am forced to buy a new car and cannot get it equipped without driver assistance and internet connectivity that can be turned off permanently, I’ll just start pulling fuses and antenna connections.

    • 0 avatar
      Tele Vision

      Same here. Our newest car is a 2013 Equinox. The oldest is a 2000 Sierra 4X4. The F-150 and CTS-V are in-between. The Caddy has a lapsed OnStar system that I assume still beams to The Mothership sometimes but I’ve never paid for the service in the six years I’ve owned it. It’s an easy fix to disable it – and none of the other cars have anything like that sort of connectivity.

      Looks like I’m stuck buying older/simpler/non-turbo/easier to fix cars for the rest of my life.


  • avatar

    These videos by an independent Apple computer repair shop owner best describes the right to repair campaign and why it’s important, i.e. if it fails, we won’t “own” anything any longer.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      Great links. Rossmann has been Johnny-on-the-spot for right-to-repair stuff for years.

    • 0 avatar

      First video: I see that the Alliance for Automotive Innovation (read the fine print at the end of the ad) has been hard at work getting out their message of truth, justice and the American way [and here I thought GM and Ford would never lie to me]. /S

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