You may have read in this week’s Capital Report or in other industry press about a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that the Auto Care Association, along with other aftermarket groups and the vehicle manufacturers, signed on Jan. 21 with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would significantly reduce the content of copper in automotive brakes. The MOU is a direct result of legislation enacted in the states of Washington and California which requires that brake pad manufacturers reduce copper to no more than 5 percent per weight by 2021 and to .5 percent by 2025. Water agencies and environmental groups have been pushing for the reduction in use of copper due to concerns that the element was seeping into the rivers and streams and having a significant adverse impact on aquatic life.
The MOU is a major achievement for the motor vehicle and auto care industry for two reasons. First, it is a positive step that the industry can take to reduce the environmental impact of one of our products. Second, the MOU seeks to reduce the threat that our industry would need to comply with a myriad of different state laws and regulations that might occur if other states determine to implement their own brake pad rules. EPA gains since they will not need to go through the expensive and time-consuming process of developing a rulemaking on the subject, but will still obtain the desired copper reductions.
Of course, I don’t want to take away from the hard work that went into developing this MOU. The effort to develop consensus on the brake pad legislation in Washington and California between government, industry and environmental groups was a long and arduous process. A lot of engineers from brake pad companies, government affairs professionals from trade groups, environmental groups and government representatives worked long hours to develop the laws and regulations that are in place in both states. In fact, this is a great example of how groups could work through their differences to come up with a consensus position rather than to simply fighting each other. How rare is that?
I also don’t want to give anyone the impression that the MOU is the end of the process. It is clearly not. Engineers from many of the brake pad companies are working to develop innovative solutions to replace copper in brake pads as soon as possible. I know this is not an easy task, but I also know that some great people are working at our member companies to make this happen, and they are doing everything possible to ensure success.
For those that distribute, sell and install brake pads, the MOU also will require their efforts to ensure that only products that meet the standards set in the California and Washington state laws and the MOU are sold throughout the distribution chain (it is important to remember that there are sell through dates to help reduce the burden on distributors and retailers of the new rules). There are labels both on the boxes and on the brake pads themselves to help make that job easier, but each company in the distribution chain will need to commit to the terms of the MOU for this effort to be ultimately successful.
To help our industry in complying, the trade groups including Auto Care have created a website www.copperfreebrakes.org. At this site, you can find information on the MOU and links to some of the key state regulations on this subject. Companies should remember that some requirements of the state laws and MOU have already kicked-in so it is imperative to become familiar with new brake pad rules as soon as possible.
So congratulations to everyone involved in making the brake MOU happen and thank you in advance to everyone that is involved in helping our industry realize the important environmental gains that will come from this MOU.
I was fortunate enough to visit the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) last week in Las Vegas. This year, the show spotlight was on the connected vehicle and the benefits this technology will bring to car owners. In addition to the flashy dashboards and cool apps that will help drivers find a parking space, car companies also talked about the large amounts of data that they will be able to obtain from vehicles through these telematics systems and how this data will help them “personalize” the experience for motorists. While the car companies highlighted the number of services that will be available online for motorists, they did not talk much about how the collection of this data will allow the manufacturer to better develop a relationship with the car owner on service issues. Clearly the unspoken goal here is to retain their customers within the dealer network beyond the usual warranty period when motorist usually bolt for the independent service industry.
During the keynote address at the start of CES last week, the new CEO of Ford, Mark Fields, publicly discussed the huge amount of data available from vehicle telematics systems, talking specifically how this data would improve the ownership experience. He also made the statement as part of his flashy presentation that the car owner should own the data that comes off their vehicle. On the surface, I think that this statement is a positive development for consumers and the independent auto care industry. However, in the next sentence, Fields declared that Ford was the steward of that information and must act responsibly with how that information is shared.
Yes, it is true that Ford and all of the other car companies have a huge responsibility with the data they are collecting; however, a major problem with the current equation is that the consumer really does not own the data because they have no control on where it goes. In other words, when you purchase a vehicle with telematics systems, Ford has full control of the data and the car owner only really has a choice on whether or not that data is shared with a third party and not with which third parties that car owner shares. It’s like your spouse telling you that you have control on what you do on a Friday night, even though the choice is going to the place they want to go or staying home. What control do you really have?
So I have a challenge to Ford and the other car companies. If you really believe that your customers own the data that their vehicles are generating, then back those statements with action that actually give the car owner control of their data, whether it’s with a new car dealer or an independent service facility. While you will be allowing competitors from the service industry to obtain the same information that you receive, you also will be giving your customers choices in how they can get their vehicles maintained and serviced, thus ensuring a better ownership experience.