As trucks, engines and components become ever more technologically sophisticated and complex, people who work on trucks for a living are facing increasing difficulties in getting access to some of the information they need to diagnose and repair those trucks.
This was the focus of one of HDAW's most popular educational sessions, a panel discussion on access to product and service information - a controversy that on the automotive side has been given the nickname "right to repair."
Dave Scheer, president of Kansas City-based Inland Truck Parts, moderated the panel. He defined the problem this way: "When essential technical information needed to correctly and safely repair a truck or provide the correct part is restricted to the truck dealer and their affiliates.
"It's not just an engine problem," he explained, "even though it began in the engine area, it is extending to other components, also. Some would argue that it is not a major issue and the information is available if you just know where to look. We at Inland face this issue every day. We know where to look; we're very resourceful. And not all the information is available to us as an independent."Some real-life examples Scheer cited:
A control module on an electronically shifted transmission lost communication with the truck. No information, wiring schematics, bulletins or updates were available to Inland, and the truck had to go to the dealer for repair before Inland could finish its repairs.
Electronic control units on engines - Inland can't read or clear codes, can't monitor engine functions, can't get wiring schematics.
An ABS brake valve with a broken wire in the loom. No wiring schematic was available, so they couldn't know for sure what wire went where. Off it went to the dealer.
Inland was asked to add an accessory option to a truck and connect it into the toggle switches on the dash, something they do frequently. But because the dash was a multiplexed wiring arrangement, they could not get the wiring diagram they needed to add the accessory option using the existing dash switches.
Pete Pasdach, president of Illinois-based Midway Truck Parts, called this "an issue that will have an effect on the entire independent channel and our end user customers." This issue, he said, affects the truck owner, the independent repair channel, the independent parts distributors, and the original equipment component manufacturers and suppliers.
Truck owners: Pasdach characterized it as a "right to choose" issue - that the truck owner has a right to choose who will repair their vehicles and where those repairs will be done. And, he said, dealers cannot keep up with the demand. "In my opinion, a single, proprietary system will not be able to support the increased demand of our customers for their parts and service needs," Pasdach said. "The result would be increased downtime and adverse effect on cost per mile - just what our customers do not need."
Independent repair channel: "It affects their ability to compete, it limits the type of services they're able to offer for their customers, and it will ultimately increase the cost of repairs."
Independent parts distributors: It affects their ability to compete, limits the type of products offered, and increases the cost of doing business.
OE component manufacturer/supplier: It will limit the types of products they are able to offer to the independent channel. It will ultimately increase their cost of doing business and limit or eliminate a possible customer base.
"The continued expansion of proprietary components and systems continues to move us more toward the European market model, one that is proprietary and exclusive to the OEM market, giving the customer one choice," Pasdach said. "This compared to the open market that fleets, repair shops and end users enjoy in North America today - one that simply allows them to choose the best supplier to meet their needs."
In summary, Pasdach said, "independent repair businesses and fleets should not be denied access to information and tools needed to repair any vehicle. Fleets should have the right to choose who repairs their vehicle. And OEMs should not get an unfair competitive advantage by being able to lock out the independents."
Todd Kindem, director of sales and marketing for ArvinMeritor's Commercial Vehicle Aftermarket business, offered a component supplier's perspective on the issue.
"The supplier manages a balancing act," he said. "This is one that requires the question of what repair information is required, versus what could possibly be sharing of our intellectual property. We want to support the vehicles and components we produce, but make sure we don't put information out that would allow people to reverse-engineer our components and things like that."
Kindem notes that in many cases, manufacturers try to restrict certain information only to people that they have business relationships with. "This is not necessarily unusual in our marketplace, and it's only negative if used to decide channel issues or competitive outcomes."
ArvinMeritor, he said, makes general service and repair information available basically to everybody in the industry, through free technical publications and service manuals and through its Web site. But there's another layer of information called Xpressway Plus, he explained, "which gives any customer we have a business relationship with a little more detailed information."
Kindem predicted this issue will intensify. "If you look at service hours, they will increase dramatically over the next five years. Fleets will continue to outsource service; all sectors of the service and repair market have the opportunity to grow; and both channels must be able to serve their customer base."
Michele Calbi, vice president of procurement and shop operations for Swift Transportation, offered a truck OEM's perspective, because of her past experience working for Toyota and Freightliner. However, she emphasized that these were not necessarily her views or the views of Swift.
"From a product and service development standpoint, the OEMs pay the price for creation of original ideas," she said. "So why should they be forced to give those away for free?"
From the OEMs' perspective, she said, manufacturers of will-fit parts and independent aftermarket and repair providers expect a free ride, demanding the benefits of the OE investment without having to pay for it. "But the OEs have to continue to get payback for this investment so they can support the success of their franchise dealers and ensure the budget is available for future research and development."
OE and Tier 1 suppliers associate negative value with independents, Calbi explained. Not only is there the concern about a price or profit margin reduction, but OEs also aren't happy about things such as reverse-engineering of components; remanufacturing and core capture; and the unauthorized use of manuals and training when dealers or fleets sell that information to independents.
"If customers demand greater technology, reliability and dependability, the OE manufacturers must be able to afford to support these demands without the proliferation of competitive independents," Calbi said. "Think of the money the OEs had to spend in the last couple of years to meet emissions standards. It is a huge investment."
Avery Vise, editorial director for CCJ magazine, talked about trends that have helped create the situation and will affect it in the future.
The availability of sensors and electronic control units and other capabilities have wetted fleets' thirst for more and more information from their equipment. Fleets now have the capability to extract all sorts of data from trucks, and as computers have become cheaper, they have become more pervasive in the shop environment, leading to even more expectations of access to data. Add to this increasing softw