October 27, 2004

Speaking of Lexmark… [1:46 pm]

There’s this article from today’s NYTime special Car section on a related issue that could easily end up in the same set of DMCA-related problems: Small Repair Shops Say Carmakers Won’t Share [pdf]

A group of mom and pop repair shops across the country is arguing that such scenes are happening too often in the last few years, jeopardizing their bottom line and sometimes even their survival. They contend that auto manufacturers are deliberately withholding information or charging high prices for repair data that used to be readily available at a reasonable cost.

Some stand-alone mechanic shops — which number more than 256,000 nationwide and make an estimated 75 percent of the country’s vehicle repairs — are pushing Congress to pass a law, called the Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act, to guarantee access to the technical and training data and specialized tools that are required for the shops to make repairs.

Organized by the Coalition for Auto Repair Equality, which represents repair shops and auto parts retailers and franchisees, a group testified at a Congressional hearing last month that manufacturers hold back information that consumers have the right to know about once they have bought a vehicle.

The Alliance of Auto Manufacturers, a trade association of nine car and light-truck manufacturers, including Ford, General Motors and Toyota, denies that it is doing so, and contends that the bill would require relinquishing proprietary information and cut into revenues that are necessary to pay for the more than $20 billion auto manufacturers spend yearly on research and design.

The car companies also say that disclosing such trade secrets could enable modifications of crucial vehicle operating systems, including emissions and safety. This, in turn, could create issues surrounding the validity of a warranty, and perhaps even the performance of such control systems, they maintain.

[...] But Sandy Bass-Cors, executive director for the Coalition for Auto Repair Equality, disputes the success rate, citing the coalition’s national survey of mechanic shops this summer that found that 59 percent of those questioned had problems getting information,r training or tools needed to repair or service cars.

The car industry, Ms. Bass-Cors said, is “trying to monopolize the repair industry.”

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