Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Maybe It’s Time To Move On And Embrace Right To Repair (RTR)? What da ya think?

I received two particularly interesting emails regarding last week's ‘right to repair’ blog.

The first was from Jessica Shea who shared an email from AAA asking her to contact her lawmakers and urge them to pass the RTR legislation pending in Massachusetts. This one was pretty predictable.

The second one was more interesting. This one was from an OEM supplier giving me advice in packaging my right to repair messages. He intimated that he wanted to remain anonymous, so I will quote from his mail without indicating the author or company.

“David, I agree with your position on Right-to-Repair (as described in recent blogs) but I think you are fighting a losing battle. As a result, I am responding by email (rather than posting a comment) because I prefer not to get sucked into this argument. … My message to you is that you need a new angle on RTR. You’re words are coming across as strident and potentially the words of either a fear monger or an OEM shill. (Most consumers have used generic parts on their car, including non-OEM tires, oil filters, etc.)”
Timeout: I think that this advice is all about taking the high road vs. the strident words of the fear mongers working the turf for the RTR lobbyists. It’s like a halftime coach of a losing team counseling his players to take the high road. Not so sure that’s a winning strategy.
“Reading your recent blog posts through the eyes of a consumer, it appears that you are trying to protect the OEM’s parts business and the dealer’s service business rather than ensuring customers get the best performance and lowest cost from their cars. (The consumer-concern noises in the blogs are long-term and seem to ring hollow.) The RTR team has the moral high-ground, they have a better message about caring for the consumer so they’ll win the battle for public sentiment.”
Timeout: The OEMs have no messages that counter the basic postulated right to choose. Also, not so sure that low cost has been portrayed in the correct safety, quality, and value light.
“It’s time for the OEMs and dealers to accept that RTR is coming because it “sounds” both right and proper. The OEMs need to figure out how to prosper in this environment and advocate for RTR changes that make it even “fairer”—ensuring cars are repaired in a way that preserves knowledge transfer to the OEM and DOT (for safety and performance analysis) and ensures consumer safety (latest parts and procedures).”
Timeout: As my father-in-law would say, “Oy veh!!” So, we just capitulate because something “sounds” right. No one debates the need to be sure that consumers have choice and can get their vehicles repaired correctly. But the current version of RTR is not the only way to do this.
“Most IRFs won’t be able to afford expensive diagnostics and other specialty tools therefore, rather than IRFs, RTR is really going to benefit the AutoZone’s of this world that can afford to buy that stuff. AutoZone (and others) will acquire the technical content and tools and make it available to IRFs via the web or local retail outlets for a per-use or monthly subscription fee. (Just like the current DMS and EPC technology.) Here’s the scenario: the IRF plugs a computer into the OBDII port and connects to AutoZone where the problem is diagnosed along with the recommended procedure, parts and tools. If I were an OEM, I would look for a way to offer the same service to the IRFs and tie in the local dealerships to provide parts distribution and (perhaps) local on-site service support (consulting). Using the airline industry as a comparison, here’s how it works: OEMs must provide current info to aircraft owners (for a price); owners can choose to use an MRO shop (e.g. an IRF) for maintenance and repairs; owners may only share those portions of the manuals that are relevant to the required maintenance. (This probably wouldn’t be viable in automotive because of the volume of cars on the road.) As a result, the OEM’s intellectual property is protected but they also protect parts revenue because MROs are using the OEM’s parts catalog. At the same time the OEM is preserving the aircraft owner’s right to have the aircraft serviced wherever they want.”
Timeout: As my mother-in-law would say, “Oy veh!!” This only makes any sense at all if you are 100% certain that we can’t change the direction of RTR (see the above “Timeout”). But even then, this involves significant and costly changes to the OE business model, relationships with dealers, etc. Personally I am not willing to fold the tent and take on that level of change without a fight.
“David, I believe RTR is going to happen (and I bet you do too). Lawmakers almost always favor openness/choice over restrictions, because it plays well to the populace. OEMs need to engage the RTR movement not to block it but to improve it. OEMs can find ways to make RTR profitable (or at least less costly) and therefore regain the moral high ground with consumers. However, no matter how eloquent your blogs may be it currently sounds like the OEMs are trying to deny consumer choice and harm the “small” IRFs and car owners. I like to believe that within the heart of every problem are the seeds of opportunity. We need to help our customers (the OEMs) to leverage the opportunities that will exist when RTR becomes a reality.“

Bottom line: Nearly all of what RTR lobbyist want is already given. My biggest fear from RTR is the language that nearly encourages IRFs to band together in class action lawsuits of unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices. As I gaze my jaundiced eye on the pile of evidence supporting right to repair, I see more benefit to tort lawyers than to car and truck owners who are seemingly deprived of rights they already enjoy. All this makes me angry. Maybe taking the high road is all about low-risk and middle-of-the road corporate executive positioning … that got Motown in dire trouble a few years back. High roaders certainly didn’t come up with “imported from Detroit.” There might be a lot more to learn from that Superbowl.

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