The State of Maine has voted “yes” to Question 4, which mimics the right-to-repair legislation that passed in Massachusetts three years earlier. This makes Maine the sixth state in the U.S. to approve such a measure and requires automakers to standardize modern vehicle onboard diagnostic systems and make them available to both customers and any independent repair shops they’d like to use.
While the decision represents another important victory for the right-to-repair movement, the world’s largest automotive lobby predictably bemoaned the situation.
Maine residents voted to approve the measure by roughly 84 percent and will now have laws in place akin to what we’ve seen in Massachusetts and several other states. Automakers will subsequently need to equip vehicles sold in the state that use telematics systems with a standardized, owner-authorized access platform, which communicates all vehicle mechanical data and is available through a mobile application. It also requires the state’s attorney general to establish an independent entity to manage access to vehicle-generated mechanical data and ensure the data being exchanged is secure. Here’s hoping they do a competent job.
“The Question 4 results are disappointing but hardly surprising. Out-of-state, big-box auto retailers — that don’t speak for independent auto repairers — spent nearly $5 million trying to scare Mainers into thinking that the right-to-repair their vehicles was going away,” John Bozzella, president and CEO of Alliance for Automotive Innovation (AAI), stated in a release.
That $5 million may sound like a lot but the automotive sector spent over $80 million on lobbying efforts in 2022 and billions more are spent on advertising every year.
“Out-of-state auto retailers backed this referendum for one reason: to grab your private vehicle telematics data and get access to your dashboard so they can try to sell you things. That’s not the definition of right-to-repair,” he continued.
“The legislature should examine this referendum in 2024 and consider legislation to codify the national cooperation agreement that already exists — and has worked well for a decade — between independent repairers and automakers.”
The above would be a lot easier to swallow if the automotive industry asked drivers before harvesting data or bothered to compensate them for the privilege. But automakers have also shown themselves to be absolutely terrible when it comes to protecting customer data. A Mozilla Foundation study from earlier this year claimed that just about every automaker under the sun shares data with third parties. Today’s vehicles accumulate and transmit an average of 25 gigabytes of data per hour. That is a staggering amount of information to give up and most drivers are still unaware that it’s even happening.
However, it is slowly becoming common knowledge and this has deterred the automotive lobby from making bold claims about how right-to-repair legislation would lead to a world where customer data (and even vehicle controls) could be readily accessed by hackers and third parties. Framing the matter as a cybersecurity issue was formerly the blanket response to any assertions that the industry needed to open up data access to independent repair shops and the people who actually own the car. But people can now point out that automakers rarely bother to protect customer data as a quick rebuttal.
For the sake of transparency, I need to confess that my interests are broadly aligned with the right-to-repair movement. While I’m happy to praise automakers for building a good car, industry activities in regard to vehicular connectivity and data procurement are things I would oppose on moral grounds. I’ve even told marketing representatives and engineers from numerous brands that I believed what they were doing with customer data hinged on a banal form of evil.
But I’ve also informed them that I understand why they’re playing the game this way. Tech firms and media companies have leveraged data harvesting into vast fortunes. That’s difficult to ignore and likely the primary reason we’ve seen so many industries pivot toward smart or connected devices consumers seem to like less than the old stuff. New technologies allow companies to procure useful tidbits of information that can help with product planning, supply chain management, or simply compile info to be sold to interested parties.
As there also seems to be no government oversight pertaining to corporate monopolies anymore, businesses can effectively expand into all sorts of directions that would have previously been chided for being anti-competitive.
“By voting yes on Question 4, Mainers have now joined Massachusetts in a growing national movement to update automotive Right to Repair laws for the modern age of connected cars,” Tommy Hickey, director of the Maine Automotive Right to Repair Committee, said on Tuesday. ”Automakers are trying to monopolize the market on car and truck repairs but their customers, the voters, are acting overwhelmingly to put the brakes on them.”
When Ford introduced its updated version of FordPro telematics and the related upfitter accreditation program, I told them it was a brilliant strategy and bound to make them oodles of money. But it also seemed to be a shrewd way of capturing the brand’s commercial customers. Some of that was due to making upfitting work vehicles easier and having good HD truck designs. But the scheme also effectively locks those companies into being overseen by Ford and makes it harder for smaller upfitters working outside that circle to do the same job. The above changes also keys the Blue Oval into new forms of data harvesting, as it’s privy to all the telematics it’s sharing with fleet managers.
This isn’t a big deal between businesses, as they’re paying for informational services provided by FordPro. But diet versions of the above are becoming commonplace among passenger vehicles, as most manufacturers continue implementing changes that effectively wrestle control and ownership rights away from the driver. It’s gradually been happening for years, slow enough for most people not to take much notice until relatively recently.
The Maine initiative was launched by a group of independent auto repair shop owners and other right-to-repair proponents through a citizens’ petition of over 70,000 signatures presented to the Maine Secretary of State’s Office.
Its core opposition was the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group representing just about every car manufacturer you’ve heard of, and the Maine Automobile Dealers Association. While supporters of Question 4 were more grassroots, they included a few large names — including the Coalition for Automotive Repair Equality, Advance Auto Parts, and AutoZone.
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