government affairs blog

Are the Car Companies Trying to Move U.S. Drivers to the Passenger Seat?

Posted by Aaron Lowe on May 04, 2015

You may be following a story that has gone viral recently that centers around claims by the vehicle manufacturers that car owners should be prevented from working on their own vehicle. The issue in question arose when the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) requested that the Copyright office approve a proposed exemption for the diagnosis and repair of motor vehicles from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s (DMCA) prohibition against circumvention of technological protection measures that control access to copyrighted works. According to their website, EFF “champions user privacy, free expression, and innovation through impact litigation, policy analysis, grassroots activism, and technology development.”

It’s interesting that EFF’s exemption request probably would have received little attention, but for opposition comments filed by General Motors (GM) and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. As part of their comments, GM and the Alliance make the case that the car companies own the software on the vehicle and that it is licensed to the car owner. Therefore, any attempt by the car owner to circumvent the software on the car would be considered a violation of the car companies’ copyright. They also make the case that car owners working on their car could endanger the safety of the vehicle and cause the vehicle emissions system to operate out of compliance. The manufacturers state that the exemption is not necessary, pointing to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the Auto Care Association and Coalition for Auto Repair Equality with the car makers that says that manufacturers will make available all of the information that is necessary to repair a vehicle.

Yes, the MOU was intended to ensure that information is available to car owners and shops so that vehicles can be repaired. However, the entire concept behind Right to Repair and the MOU is that the car owner owns the vehicle when they purchase it; and that those same car owners should have the freedom to have that vehicle repaired by whomever they want, including themselves. In fact, one of the hallmarks of Americans’ love affairs with their car is the freedom that it provides, whether it is taking the car on a road trip or being able to work on it in their garage. This concept of ownership goes beyond just what repair information the car companies place on their website -- it is ownership of the entire vehicle.

There is no doubt that technology has changed how vehicles are repaired. Cars are run by computers, and therefore repairing or customizing a vehicle entails changes to the software that control the vehicle systems. However, should the computerization of vehicles change how car owners view their vehicle? We don’t think so. Clearly, car owners should not be encouraged to tamper with their vehicle’s emissions or safety systems (there are laws in place to ensure the integrity of the emissions system), but sometimes innovation that comes from outside the vehicle manufacturer can lead to better safety, improved performance and reduced pollution.

Further, technologies such as telematics systems and new entertainment features provide more opportunities for car owners to customize their driving experience. There is little doubt that the connected car will further enhance a driver’s connection with their car, unless of course the manufacturers determine to stifle innovation through their drive for profits.

The Auto Care Association feels strongly that when a consumer buys a vehicle, they purchase everything -- the body, seats, engine and yes, the software on that vehicle as well. Anything less is not in the best interest of the automotive industry or the U.S. car owner.

You can find a copy of the joint comments filed with the U.S. Copyright Office by the Auto Care Association and Automotive Parts Rebuilders Association here.

Will the Auto Care Industry be Collateral Damage in Car Company Efforts to Protect Their Vehicles from Hacking?

Posted by Aaron Lowe on April 13, 2015

Recently, several members of Congress led by Senator Ed Markey, D-Mass., have directed the public’s attention at the connected vehicle and the absence of security to protect vehicles from hacking. These allegations were clearly on the mind of attendees at a “Vehicle Cyber Security Summit” that I recently attended in Detroit. While it seemed like consultants outnumbered the vehicle manufacturers at the event, there was a substantial number of car companies and suppliers in attendance.

The overriding message at the summit was that the Control Area Network (CAN) used on vehicles today to permit internal vehicle computers to talk to each other was not designed with the connected vehicle in mind. Therefore, the interconnected vehicle systems under the CAN are extremely vulnerable to cyber-attack. Further, the growing political pressure on vehicle manufacturers is expediting action although many companies are still in the process of determining what strategies to employ in order to protect their vehicles.

Many “cyber security experts” focused on the OBD II port as a primary vulnerability for the vehicle's operating systems. Speakers pointed to the use of "aftermarket dongles" as a major concern where someone could use the dongle to send a message into the vehicle's computers that would cause the car to operate improperly. The dongles are the devices offered by insurance companies and many auto care companies that plug into the OBD II ports and are able to transmit diagnostic and driver information using cell phone technology.

The auto care industry will have to closely watch what measures that the car companies implement to protect their systems at the OBD II port. A decision to encrypt data traveling over the CAN could create major headaches for the companies that build tools for the independent auto care industry. Further, those companies that have plans to use dongles to provide telematics solutions for consumers could be left out in the cold if the car companies implement solutions that prevent these devices from working.

Clearly protecting the security of a vehicle is of prime importance to everyone in the automotive and auto care industries. However, the solutions developed to address this critical concern also need to take into account the need for consumers to obtain repairs of these vehicles, whether they perform the work themselves or use an independent service facility.
Keywords: Telematics

Car Companies: Let Our Data Go!

Posted by Aaron Lowe on January 12, 2015

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.
Keywords: Telematics

AAPEX Education Sessions to Focus on Telematics

Posted by Aaron Lowe on October 27, 2014

AAPEX 2014 is almost upon us, and while there is always a focus on what is happening on the trade show floor, more and more attendees are excited about the educational sessions that will be occurring during the show. These sessions tend to reflect the issues that are hot on the minds of the industry, which helps explain why many of this year’s seminars will focus on the impact of telematics on the auto care industry. Just a few years ago, the issue barely warranted notice at the show, but now the ability of vehicles to communicate with car owners, shops and others in the distribution chain is front and center on the minds of auto care industry leaders.

Of course, a central element of this discussion is who will control the data being transmitted from a vehicle, the car owner or the vehicle manufacturer. As currently configured, the data coming off a car, which includes a lot of diagnostic, repair and personal information of the car owner, goes only to the manufacturers. Changing this scenario to providing car owner control is a major goal of the Auto Care Association.

However, this is a very complex issue with few clear answers. For example, if access to the systems was required by legislation, how would that actually occur? How would the independent auto care industry use the information being transmitted by those vehicles if our industry had access to the data being sent by it? What is the business model? Should car owners be charged or should the shop pay the cost of the system based on the benefits of obtaining access to the car owner’s data?

While there is a lot to get your arms around, fortunately, AAPEX will give you the opportunity to learn more about the issue of telematics and to begin the thought process of how it would apply to your business. There are three interesting sessions that will take place during the show, listed below, that cover the issue from different vantage points. Hopefully, you find time to get to one or more of these sessions which will take place in Marco Polo Rooms 704-705 at The Venetian. Additional information on all of the educational sessions can be found on the AAPEX website at

The Telematics Business Model for WarehouseDistributors
Tuesday, November 4, 3:30 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. 
Speaker: Jim Dykstra, Aftermarket Telematics Technologies

The independent auto care industry has learned how telematics technology has the potential to make it increasingly difficult to compete with OEs for parts sales and service and repair work. Many warehouse distributors are currently researching how they can take advantage of telematics to direct vehicle owners to their repair shop customers, but often are not sure what type of business model will work best. This session outlines what WDs need to consider when developing a telematics business model. This session is not about telematics technology, but instead the use of this technology to enhance traditional sales.

AftermarketTelematics and the Connected Car
Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. - 3 p.m.
Speakers: Derek Kaufman, C3 Network,Inc.; Aaron Lowe, Auto Care Association

Telematics and the connected car are among the most challenging advances in vehicle technology. If vehicle manufacturers have the ability to communicate with their product wirelessly and perform remote diagnostics, how will that impact the independent auto care and service industry? The Aftermarket Telematics Task Force was formed to represent a unified industry voice in this issue and develop an open technical solution that offers consumers the right to choose where information from their vehicle is sent. Representatives of the Task Force will brief the industry on progress and recent activity.

Diagnosing the Connected Vehicle
Thursday, Nov. 6, 7:30 a.m. - 8:30 a.m.
Speaker: Ben Johnson, Mitchell1 

This presentation describes the changing role of the diagnostician and how to most effectively utilize all information resources available to technicians for efficient and accurate diagnosis of the vehicle. The session will focus on analytic and diagnostic strategies when incorporating OE information as well as vehicle data and industry experience. The diagnostic process changes from the point of vehicle arrival practiced today to the point of vehicle symptom detection using telematics will be discussed and how telematics will enable the technician to work more effectively.

Keywords: AAPEX, Telematics

Who is Really in Control of your Vehicle?

Posted by Aaron Lowe on May 12, 2014
In late April, the Senate Transportation Committee in California voted not to approve legislation that sought to provide consumers with clear notice that their vehicle had an embedded telematics system and that it was transmitting information to the vehicle manufacturer. The bill further sought to provide car owners with the ability to direct information transmitted by the telematics system to entities other than the vehicle manufacturer. The vote in the committee (three yes, one no and seven not voting) reflects not so much opposition to the issue of car owner privacy or competition in the auto care industry, but more to the fact that few legislators really understand the issue. Unfortunately, the absence of awareness of the impact of telematics both on car owners and competition is not confined to just legislators. Most car owners and likely even many in the auto care industry are unaware that vehicles are increasingly becoming equipped with telematics systems and what kind of information is actually transmitted to the vehicle manufacturers through these systems.

The ability for car companies to constantly tap into the vehicle’s on-board computers will provide a treasure trove of information regarding how a vehicle is driven, mileage, location, diagnostic fault codes and if it has been in an accident -- all in real time. Armed with this information, the car company and their franchised dealers will have the ability to develop more accurate models that predict possible component failures, improve and expand customer services, implement more targeted marketing campaigns, develop more efficient supply chain systems and more quickly respond to roadside emergencies, to name just a few. While independent auto care facilities could also benefit from access to this data, currently the car companies control access to the embedded telematics system, meaning they have a significant amount of power to determine who benefits and who does not benefit from telematics.

Some vehicle manufacturers realize that the more service they can provide to their customers will make their vehicle more desirable to potential customers. These manufacturers have provided “kits” to companies looking to build an “app” for the vehicle. The kits provide information on the vehicle’s telematics system such that an independent company could integrate their app into the embedded telematics system. This initiative is pretty smart for those manufacturers, but it is important to remember that the car company still maintains control of who can obtain the kit and who is approved to provide an app for their vehicles.

The bottom line in this debate is control -- should it be the car company or the car owner? In my opinion and that of the Auto Care Association, it is the car owner that should decide where their data is sent. However, this is easier said than done. At the current time there is really no technical method for a car owner to determine where data off their system can be sent. Working with a task force that is comprised of a host of trade groups and companies, the Auto Care Association is attempting to address the technical barriers to open access to embedded telematics. However, this is not easy task and there are some significant challenges including how to protect certain safety-related vehicle systems that, if hacked, could pose a danger to the motorist. Further, once a standardized interface is developed, the car companies are going to need to adopt the standard in order for it to be effective. It is unclear at the present time how likely it will be that car companies will cede full control of their systems.

This all brings me back to the vote in California. While the effort by AAA of northern and southern California has certain raised the profile of this issue, more needs to be done to educate car owners and legislators on this important issue. Second, it is important that the industry, hopefully that includes the car companies and the auto care industry, cooperatively develops a standard by which non-car company entities can obtain access to a vehicle’s embedded telematics system with the permission of the car owner. Once this standard is developed then it will be up to the car companies as to whether they will adopt the standard. While it is possible that control of access to data sent via telematics systems will become a legislative issue, pitting consumers and the auto care industry against the car companies and the dealers (sound familiar?), I hope that the car companies will see the writing on the wall and work toward ensuring that their customers have control of the data being sent by their system and the right to determine if and where that data is sent.

Keywords: Telematics

Public Attention to Privacy Concerns Relative to Vehicle Telematics Might be a Good Thing for the Auto Care Industry

Posted by Aaron Lowe on January 13, 2014

Much of the news out of the Consumer Electronics Show which took place in Las Vegas last week revolved around an agreement between several automakers and Google to provide telematic solutions for their motor vehicles.

As the Washington Post reported on Friday, Jan. 10, “The growing alliance between Silicon Valley and Detroit has executives in both places excited over the technological and money-making opportunities. But the fast-emerging trend also has raised questions about whether consumers will be able to control the massive trove of personal data that cars are expected to generate in the coming years.” The Post article, which, by the way, was on the front page, further stated: “U.S. laws are vague about who can harness all that information. Can law enforcement use the data to prove that a driver was speeding? Will hackers be able to get personal data from Web-connected cars? Can consumers stop Google from tracking them as it seeks to sell targeted ads?”

The good news is that the media is finally waking up to the fact that telematic systems poses important issues for car owners regarding how much control they have of the information being sent by their vehicle. AAIA and others have been concerned for some time that OE telematic systems will permit the car companies and their dealers to more directly communicate with motorists regarding the repair and maintenance needs of their motor vehicle. AAIA is further concerned that due to the direct contact that telematics provides, that car companies will use this connection to push motorists back to the dealer service bays long after the new car warranty expires. Further, these telematic systems will permit car companies to direct repair and diagnostic data from the vehicle to their dealer service bays before the vehicle has even entered the shop, allowing the dealer technician to better know what might be wrong with the car and order the repair information and parts they will need to fix the car faster and more efficiently than their independent counterparts?

AAIA has taken the position that the motorist needs to be better positioned to control the information being sent by vehicles. Do they want their information sent at all and if so, to the car dealer or the independent, or maybe both? As I have said in the past, there are two issues that are included in that question, one is policy the other is technical. Congress likely will need to look at the privacy issues on motor vehicle to decide how car owners should be empowered to control the information begin sent by their telematic systems; and second, if they choose to send their information to those outside of the car company sanctioned group, how technically can that happen?

AAIA and others in our industry are working on both a policy and a technical proposal that hopefully will ensure that the motorist can control access to their telematic systems and to ensure that entities outside of the car companies can have access to the vehicle’s telematic systems with permission by the car owner. You can read more about this effort in the latest issue of Insider. In the meantime, it is good news that the press is catching on that the new connected vehicle may have more implications than previously thought. Hopefully this attention will generate more discussion of this issue both in Congress and the state capitals over the coming year.

A Consumer Bought the Car, But Are They Really in the Driver’s Seat When it Comes to Telematics?

Posted by Aaron Lowe on February 15, 2013

The old saying goes that “you can’t stop progress,” but does that mean that you shouldn’t try to make sure it going down the right path? This question should be on everyone’s mind as we see the use of telematics become more prevalent on motor vehicles. What is telematics? The technology is evolving so quickly it is difficult to find a good definition anywhere. However, in general, telematics is the ability of a vehicle to wirelessly communicate and accept data from off-vehicle sources. From the point of view of the repair aftermarket, telematics permits a vehicle to transmit, to an off-site facility, information regarding diagnostic codes, GPS and vehicle mileage. This data could be used by a repair shop to determine what repairs are needed and then obtain the necessary tools, software, and parts even before the vehicle is in the shop. Telematics would permit a shop to know the actual mileage of a vehicle and then transmit a reminder to the car owner that it is time for a regular maintenance, and then help the motorist make an appointment online with the repair center. Telematics would permit a manufacturer to update software on a vehicle without the driver even knowing it is occurring.

This leads me to the point of this blog. While there is incredible number of benefits to car owners and the repair industry from telematics (many beyond our industry, including entertainment and vehicle safety), there are a lot of issues that need to be sorted out as well. First and foremost, who owns the information that is being transmitted by the vehicle, the car owner or the vehicle manufacturer who built the vehicle and developed the telematics technology that is on the car? Let’s say that I, as a car owner, do not want my diagnostic information going to the car manufacturer or their franchised dealer network. What if I want that information to go to Joe’s repair shop down the street that has been repairing my car for years? What if I want AAA or another emergency service to obtain alerts when my car is disabled and not the service that is under contract with a manufacturer? Or, what if I don’t want my information going anywhere but to my home computer? Shouldn’t this be my choice? Yes, the car company designed the system, but it is my vehicle and I paid for the development of that system when I purchased that car.

While telematics on vehicles is still a developing technology, now is the time to begin having these discussions before we move too far down the road. As our vehicles become more and more connected, the decisions as to who owns the data produced by our vehicles must be made. Further, from the aftermarket point of view, we must work to develop standards such that, if the car owner wants to send information to a non-car company location, the information can be read and utilized by the independent repair shop. This could require some standardization of the data transmission by the vehicle and some checks and balances such that any non-original equipment telematics solution does not create unintended issues with the motor vehicle’s operating system.

Implementation of a telematics system that utilizes open architecture will provide car owner with choices in vehicle repair and in other areas such as entertainment and safety. However, an open system also will require cooperation between the vehicle manufacturer and the independent aftermarket. Similar to the other new technology, providing choices to car owners in what they can do with their telematic systems is going to make those vehicles more appealing to the car owner, so it should be favorably received by the car companies. “Should be” is the question, discovering what they actually do is something AAIA is looking forward to discovering.

Keywords: Telematics