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ACCC Industry Findings: A World of Shared Data

The ACCC recently released a series of findings pertaining to the Australian automotive industry. Among these findings were observations concerning the resolution of new car buyers’ complaints, fuel efficiency and emissions tests, as well as sharing manufacturer data with independent mechanics and body shops. While each of these topics is contentious in its own right, the last of these, shared vehicle data, should have relevance to just about every stakeholder in the industry.

Looking at the ACCC’s observations more closely, the consumer watchdog is advocating for repair and body shop members of the Motor Trades Association of Australia to receive current vehicle data from all manufacturers, so that they may also carry out work on vehicles.

These changes would obviously open up repair and services work to a wider market, thus reducing business for dealerships. Currently there is a voluntary arrangement in place, which has been limited in its success due to a lack of consistency and timeliness in sharing such info. As such, the ACCC is pushing for a mandatory arrangement. The provision of this digital data on a compulsory basis would not be without costs however, as receiving parties would be expected to pay for access to this information.

There is also scope in the recommendations for independent repair businesses to receive faster access to OEM parts. Again, on a commercial basis but with some provisions for restrictions based on security. The price of said parts is also flagged as an issue, with prices said to be rising and dealers able to leverage discounts. Although policy on all of the issues has not been addressed, public consultation has been earmarked as necessary.

Naturally, while public consultation is a fair and transparent process, the ACCC should be forthright in pushing what is a much needed agenda for change. For too long now new car buyers have been confined in their choices as a consumer with respect to servicing or repairing their vehicle. Even if there hasn’t been a formal restriction in place, motorists have felt compelled to take their vehicle back to a dealer for servicing.

In turn, this has led to motorists forking out a considerably greater deal to maintain their car than would otherwise be the case. They are in part wearing the cost of a lack of competition, while ultimately, dealerships have been able to recoup significant margins that were otherwise diminishing by way of lower retail car prices and record low interest rates. Also, what cannot be overlooked is the impact, from a safety perspective, this has had when consumers opt instead to refrain from repairing or servicing their vehicles as would be necessary.

On the other side of the equation, the consumer watchdog also views customer loyalty as hindered and points to the lack of a “level playing field” caused by the current state of affairs. For a healthy market to exist, it’s important that participants are all afforded opportunities to access the same customers. Of course, barring patents, IP or legal restrictions. These changes are just the beginning of facilitating reforms that will restore balance within the industry and better serve customers and mechanics.