After five years and millions of dollars spent on advertisements and lobbyists, proponents of "Right to Repair" still can't answer the serious questions or explain the concerns about their effort in Massachusetts.
No state has passed this law and for good reason: It's not just bad for business; it also threatens safety and discourages a key to the Massachusetts economy — investment in innovation.
The idea of Right to Repair sounds logical enough. Shouldn't we all choose where we take our cars for repairs? We should, and we do. Consumers regularly exercise that choice. More than 75 percent of post-warranty repairs are done by independent repair shops, not dealerships.
That's why the New England Service Station and Auto Repair Association and the Automotive Service Association — two groups representing independent repairers — oppose Right to Repair.
They know the information is already available at fair prices to businesses that choose to pay for it. And automakers have agreed to support Massachusetts-specific legislation that codifies and formalizes this practice to further ensure these resources will be available equally and securely.
Why is there still debate? Because the fight over Right to Repair isn't really about access to information. It's about dictating how every car manufacturer makes that information available to the aftermarket for one state.
The initiative would require the use of 15-year-old technology for the diagnostic and repair systems of every single component and feature on an automobile. If passed, it would force the global redesign of vehicle systems in an unrealistic time frame. Vehicle design cycles take five to seven years to complete and are not done on a state-by state basis.
By mandating the use of outdated and limiting technology, Massachusetts would threaten innovation and the synchronized operation of vehicle safety systems.
There is also no practical way to enforce this law. Its supporters want to use Chapter 93A of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act for enforcement, which primarily would encourage frivolous and class-action lawsuits, while failing to protect car makers' unique inventions and designs. Independent repair shops looking for help won't get any under this enforcement proposal. They need information and are not looking for the right to sue. That's the primary reason many repairers oppose Right to Repair. If it were really about them, this would not be the focus.
Should non-automotive businesses in Massachusetts be worried about this issue too? Yes. If the state mandates the terms of a relationship between competing interests that have no contractual relationship in one industry, it can happen in others.
Government should not choose business winners and losers; the market should. By forcing the use of outdated technology and weakening protections on intellectual property, Beacon Hill will send the wrong message to job creators and those invested in the commonwealth's innovation economy.
The corporate auto parts retailers and large quick-fix chains financing this battle want you to believe this bill is about consumers. It's not. Opposition by business groups like Associated Industries of Massachusetts, MassBio, MassMedic and the Massachusetts High Technology Council demonstrates that Right to Repair is just plain wrong for Massachusetts. n
Matthew Godlewski is vice president for state affairs for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
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