European Court of Justice Defends ‘Fair and Level Playing Field’ in the Automotive Aftermarket

In a decision that may have implications for Right to Repair and data access laws here in the U.S., the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that independent repair shops should be allowed access to essential car data. Aftermarket vehicle repairers say this reinforces the importance of a fair and level playing field in the automotive aftermarket and the benefits this brings to consumers.

Belron company Carglass Germany and ATU, a German chain of auto repair shops, originally raised an issue with Regional Court of Cologne in a case against Fiat Chrysler (FCA Italy SpA – “FCA”). The complaint, filed in 2022, alleged that certain aftermarket services, such as recalibration of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) following windshield replacement or solving problems indicated by a warning lamp, require access to a car data stream. At the time, some vehicle manufacturers were obstructing third-party access to those data streams by charging license fees. The glass companies argued that the action added unnecessary cost and affects free competition in the aftermarket, as well as impeding consumers’ freedom of choice. It also can lead to higher prices for consumers.

As the case involved the interpretation of EU Regulation, the Regional Court of Cologne decided to refer the case to the ECJ. The ECJ ruling, issued on October 5, states that “Article 61(1) and (4) of Regulation (EU) 2018/858 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 May 2018 on the approval and market surveillance of motor vehicles and their trailers, and of systems, components and separate technical units intended for such vehicles.” This amended previous articles addressing similar topics and repealed a previous directive, “read in conjunction with Annex X to Regulation 2018/858, must be interpreted as precluding a vehicle manufacturer from making access by independent operators to vehicle repair and maintenance information and to on-board diagnostic information, including write access to that information, subject to conditions other than those laid down in that regulation.”

As the ruling came from the EJC, it applies legal certainty throughout the EU and representatives of Carglass and ATU say it will be binding for all vehicle manufacturers and independent market players.

“We are delighted by today’s ruling provided by the ECJ. This decision reinforces a fair and level playing field in the automotive aftermarket and the benefits this brings to consumers,” said Carlos Brito, CEO of Belron. “We believe this ruling will be influential around the world as legislators address right to repair issues created by the rapidly increasing level of connected car technology in vehicles. We are committed to working constructively with all vehicle manufacturers to ensure that this ruling is implemented effectively, so that consumers are able to continue to benefit from the competition provided by the independent aftermarket.”

Jean-Pierre Filippini, managing director of Carglass Germany, added that, “We now expect all vehicle manufacturers to respect the ECJ´s interpretation of the law and end all restrictions of access to the OBD port immediately, so that we can ensure that the benefits of fair and competitive access to vehicle systems are felt by consumers as soon as possible.” 

A Carglass press release about the ruling pointed out that the replacement of a windshield is becoming more technically complex in modern vehicles. Currently, around 30% of all vehicles need recalibration of their ADAS when the windscreen has been replaced, the press release said, adding that it is a number that keeps rising as new cars are fitted with ADAS. Additionally, tasks carried out in a vehicle repair shop, whether as part of a repair or routine maintenance, require that the mechanic has access to the car data stream via the so-called onboard diagnostics (OBD) port. ATU, like all independent repair shops, accesses these programs using common multi-brand diagnostic devices connected to the OBD port of the vehicle.

A consideration for the ECJ was the importance of cybersecurity, which the final decision indicates can be addressed adequately by vehicle manufacturers without the need to impose restrictions on the aftermarket.

“Across Belron, cyber security is of paramount importance, and we are constantly working to ensure our systems stay ahead of emerging threats to protect our customers’ personal information and to ensure the safety and security of their vehicles. Customers that bring their vehicles to us trust our ability to carry out our work, which includes connecting to their vehicle through their OBD port, in a high quality and efficient way that will not compromise their safety or cybersecurity. We are confident that vehicle manufacturers such as FCA are able to appropriately manage cyber security risks without needing to unduly restrict access to vehicle systems/data (including via the OBD port), thereby impacting independent aftermarket servicing,” Brito added.

With the ruling of the ECJ, Carglass officials say that they, ATU, and other independent repair shops will be able to compete with the car manufacturers’ workshops without restrictions as provided by EU law.

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