When the Massachusetts state Legislature passed the nation's first right to repair law earlier this year, it excluded vehicles over 10,000 pounds. Last week, state voters overwhelmingly approved a different version of the law, which includes all motor vehicles sold in the state.
One of the issues truck makers have with Massachusetts' ballot measure is that custom-spec'ed trucks are so individual in nature, the amount of information required is daunting.
One of the issues truck makers have with Massachusetts' ballot measure is that custom-spec'ed trucks are so individual in nature, the amount of information required is daunting.

However, there is still a chance state lawmakers could change that as they reconcile the differences between the ballot measure and the deal reached with automakers previously. In addition, truck and engine makers say compliance with the requirements is not really feasible for heavy-duty manufacturers.

The Ballot Measure

For vehicles manufactured from 2002 through model year 2014, the law as voted on Tuesday requires a manufacturer of motor vehicles sold in Massachusetts to make available for purchase, by vehicle owners and in-state independent repair facilities, the same diagnostic and repair information and tools that the manufacturer makes available through an electronic system to its dealers and in-state authorized repair facilities for no more than fair market value and on terms that do not unfairly favor dealers and authorized repair facilities.

Starting with model year 2015, it prohibits any motor vehicle manufacturer from selling or leasing a new motor vehicle without allowing the owner to have this information and the manufacturer would have to provide access to the information through a standardized, universal non-proprietary vehicle interface, using a standard applied in federal emissions-control regulations.

The law would not require manufacturers to reveal a trade secret, and would not interfere with any agreement made by a manufacturer, dealer, or authorized repair facility already in effect. Starting in 2013, however, the law would prohibit any agreement that waives or limits a manufacturers compliance.

Any violation of the proposed law would be treated as a violation of existing state consumer protection and unfair trade-practices laws.

"The ballot question will become effective 30 days following certification of the election results, which should happen within a day or so if it hasn't already," says Art Kinsman of the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition. The law passed earlier this year went into effect Tuesday, on Election Day.

Two Versions of Right to Repair

What about the parts of the law voted on this week that are different from the law already in effect? In addition to the broader definition, there are other differences, such as a 2018 deadline for a universal diagnostics tool instead of 2015.

"The parts of the ballot question that are different, such as the newer definition, will supersede the law passed in July," Kinsman says. "What is unknown is whether the legislature will revisit the issue at some point and reconcile the differences."

Aaron Lowe, vice president of government affairs for the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association, agreed.

"I think that there will be an attempt by the legislature at some point to reconcile the differences between the ballot measure and the enacted legislation," Lowe says. "It is too early to tell when that will occur or whether the scope of the legislation will be expanded to include heavy-duty."

Kinsman said the voter enthusiasm should help supporters of the measure. Voters in Massachusetts approved the Right to Repair referendum by an 85% to 15% margin. More than 2 million Massachusetts voters approved the measure.

"The voters supported the idea that right to repair ought to apply to a wider group," Kinsman says. "If there's any talk about reconciling the differences between the two, it's awfully difficult to turn around and reverse that, in the face of such strong support."

Not Designed for Heavy-Duty

The Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association, which includes members such as Cummins, Daimler Trucks North America, Hino, Isuzu, Navistar, and Paccar, has been following the issue for some time and opposed the original legislation as well as the ballot initiative.

"One of the primary problems is that the ballot language specifically calls for use of certain interfaces that truck manufacturers do not use and requires information that is simply not available for heavy-duty and nonroad vehicles," explains spokesman Joe Suchecki.

"The ballot language was really drafted to apply to light-duty automobiles," he says. "We supported the compromise legislation that was passed last fall that both the motor vehicle industry and proponents of right-to-repair supported. That bill exempted heavy-duty and nonroad vehicles. Unfortunately, the ballot initiative could not be withdrawn even though the issue was settled by the Massachusetts legislature.

"The passage of the ballot initiative causes very significant problems for heavy-duty truck manufacturers and, in fact, compliance with the requirements is really not feasible. EMA will be working with other motor vehicle associations to identify a solution."

Problems with Heavy-Duty

One issue, Suchecki says, is that the ballot initiative requires compliance to the SAE J 2534 standard. Heavy-duty vehicles use a different standard for the interface. "It is not practical or feasible for truck manufacturers to change to a different standard for a single state, and certainly to not do so by the required deadline," Suchecki says.

In addition, truck manufacturers are not totally integrated the way light-duty vehicle manufacturers are. The ballot language specially indicates that the vehicle manufacturer is responsible for compliance and providing all information. In some cases, however, certain systems such as engines, air emissions controls, or transmissions used in trucks may include proprietary information that is not owned by the truck manufacturer, so they do not have access to all the information required to be available.

Because trucks are individually spec'ed, the specific components and parts on each truck can vary greatly. Therefore, the amount of information that is needed to comply with the initiative is very large, Suchecki says.

"Manufacturers would have to identify - and make available to everyone information on each differently-specified truck every sold in Massachusetts. That would be a very daunting and expensive undertaking and would require development of very specific information management systems."

The ballot measure also requires manufacturers to provide information on vehicles retroactive to 2002 model year. Commercial vehicle manufacturers are just now starting to implement OBD (onboard diagnostics) on heavy-duty vehicles. "The information required by the ballot initiative for model years going back to 2002 is simply not available," Suchecki says.

Learn more about the ballot measure at www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/ele12/ballot_questions_12/quest_1.htm.

Related Stories:

8/29/2012 Massachusetts Right to Repair Bill Excludes Medium- and Heavy-Duty Trucks

9/5/2012 Aftermarket Groups Say Adding Heavy-Duty Could Have Derailed Mass. Right to Repair