OTTAWA — A voluntary agreement recently struck between automakers and the National Automotive Trades Association — which allows auto shops to gain access to repair information, tools and training — is being both hailed and slammed by those in the vehicle aftermarket industry.
Under the deal announced on Tuesday, domestic and foreign automotive companies have agreed to voluntarily provide service and repair information, tools and training to automotive repair shops. It is expected to take effect next May.
Federal Industry Minister Tony Clement said the deal will lead to more competition and lower costs for motorists and that the voluntary accord nullifies the need for legislation.
Reaction by those in the trade has been mixed. While some say the voluntary deal is a victory for technicians, many shops and technicians have complained in previous years that a voluntary agreement would be unenforceable.
And that has irked proponents who had backed a separate backbencher’s bill with shaper teeth.
Bill C-273, a.k.a., the "Right to Repair Bill," was given preliminary approval by Parliament this past May and is headed to the precarious Committee stage.
It requires vehicle makers — including of commercial trucks — to make available to independent auto repair shops the tools, training, and information that enable them to fix their cars and trucks.
However, it appears that the voluntary deal (which, incidentally, doesn’t cover heavy-duty technicians as Bill C-273 would have), has taken the air of any Parliamentary mandate, meaning that Bill C-273 could very likely fall off the legislative ladder.
"It [the agreement] is a little bit of good news — and a whole lot of bad news," said Scott Smith, director of government and industry relations for the Automotive Industry Association of Canada. "From a technical perspective, there are several fundamental flaws."
For example, Smith said there’s no stipulation in the agreement that requires manufacturers to provide flash downloads to independent shops — something the AIA has vigorously lobbied for since 2004.
Smith also has grave concerns about the opt-out clause in the agreement and the fact that a technician isn’t even permitted to present himself as being qualified to work on a specific make of vehicle.
Smith, though, is said hopeful the Right to Repair Bill will still go before committee for review later this month.
The NDP’s automotive critic and author of Bill C-273, Brian Masse, called the voluntary agreement "an ineffective sideshow" compared with his private member’s bill.
"No environmental or consumer protection rule is voluntary. No public safety measure is voluntary. A law is the only real protection for vehicle owners that is available," Masse said in a statement.
After the announcement, Masse raised the issue during question period, sparking an exchange with Clement: "Today the industry minister admitted there’s a problem in the auto repair market. I thank him for finally coming to that realization years later. Not bad for his track record, to be quite frank," said Masse.
"However, he accepted a non-binding manufacturers’ agreement that will not protect consumers, does not ensure competition, is completely unenforceable. It is not worth the paper it is written on. The House voted overwhelmingly for a legislative solution like in Europe and the United States.
"Can the minister explain why Canadians are not going to get the same consumer, environmental and public safety protections as citizens of those other countries? Why does he think Canadians are second rate?"
"Quite the contrary, Mr. Speaker," responded Clement. "We were able to work with the automobile manufacturers, both foreign and domestic. We worked with those representing the aftermarket and garages that seek to do this work and we came up with a voluntary agreement that has mediation in it. It has a price structure in it.
"It has all of the details that are necessary to make sure that when people take their cars to a place other than their dealer for servicing, they can get the advantages of the repairs in that particular place.
“That is good news for Canadian consumers and it is good news for the Canadian auto market."
Not so good new, though, for commercial truck buyers, whose hopes for aftermarket parity still rest with Masse’s vulnerable Right to Repair Bill.
— with files from David Menzies, editor Canadian Technician
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