Will there be an aftermarket after Brexit?

Neil takes a look forward at the legislative landscape that the UK’s exit from the EU could create, and how the automotive sector might fare

By Neil Pattermore |

Published:  04 January, 2019

At the time of writing, the Brexit talks have not reached any agreement, but even if an agreement has now been reached as you are reading this, from the position of the UK aftermarket there will still be a lot of unanswered questions relating to both existing and future European legislation and how the UK government may decide to handle the implementation of these regulatory requirements after Brexit. This will be of critical importance to the aftermarket.
    
So, what does the government need to do to avoid a negative impact on the UK aftermarket?
    
To understand the background, it is important to understand the ‘legislative landscape’. The automotive sector in Europe is heavily regulated by European legislation, especially concerning vehicle safety and emissions. However there are also other aspects of automotive regulation that are an integral part of European legislation – especially the UNECE Regulations, which are centered on Geneva and cover many aspects of the European vehicle type approval (the UK is a signatory to these UNECE activities). At first glance, this may not appear to be an issue for the aftermarket, but increasingly, UNECE Regulations are referenced in the European Vehicle Type Approval and have started to include direct requirements for the aftermarket. In summary, this has complicated the legislative landscape and the increasing impact that legislation has on the future of the aftermarket in Europe, including the UK.
    
This legislation has different aspects in terms of its legal basis and has both an historic element as well as a future requirement which has yet to enter into force. Historically, the Block Exemption Regulation (BER) is based on competition law. This principally covered the agreements between the vehicle manufacturer and their authorized dealer network (originally allowing an ‘exemption’ from the monopolistic geographical trading area), but importantly for the aftermarket, included the rights for ‘independent operators’ to access all technical information, tools, spare parts, training etc. at the same level as the authorised repairer – the ‘non-discrimination’ principle.
    
However, although BER was revised in 2010, in practical terms, it did not change the basic problem of the ability for a small business to take legal action against a vehicle manufacturer if they did not provide access to e.g. technical information, when requested – a real ‘David and Goliath’ challenge.
    
To address this problem, the European Commission decided to put the ‘access to repair and maintenance information’ (RMI) into Vehicle Type Approval Regulations, where it addressed the issue by changing the legal basis – still fundamentally a competition issue that supports non-discrimination - but now based on the vehicle manufacturer having to prove that access to the RMI was possible before they can achieve whole Vehicle Type Approval. However, now there is a mechanism that allows the type approval authorities to challenge the vehicle manufacturer if a possible non-compliance problem is raised by an independent operator once the vehicle model is in the market. This is all part of the requirements of the Euro 5 emissions legislation, introduced in 2007.
    
Most importantly, do not underestimate the importance of these two pieces of legislation. Without them, today’s aftermarket would not be anywhere near as capable to work on the increasingly complicated systems found in modern vehicles and subsequently be able to offer the driver the myriad of competing choices that are the basis of the very existence of the aftermarket.
    
However, there are further challenges ahead. Today’s vehicles are not only more sophisticated, but they are connected to provide telematics (remote) based services and are increasingly equipped with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). This leads to an increasing safety issue, where vehicle manufacturers want to protect their (claimed) liability requirements and consequently, a security issue of only the vehicle manufacturer controlling access to the vehicle and its data. Although I have covered the impact that this is likely to create in previous articles, but from the legislative perspective, this is yet to be addressed.
    
Some better news is that a new Vehicle Type Approval legislation is coming into force for new vehicle models entering the market from 1 September 2020 and this will help, as it directly references both the OBD connector and its ability to support access to the in-vehicle data, as well as referencing the vehicle manufacturer as part of the principle of non-discrimination if they provide remote services. However, the technical detail of how the access to the vehicle will be provided and consequently who will have access to what data is far from clear and is the subject of much heated debate in Brussels. The business model of vehicle manufacturers is evolving into remote services that pre-empt what a vehicle needs (i.e. predictive or prognostic functions that allow the ‘repair process’ to be assessed remotely before a vehicle needs to come to a workshop) as well as providing ‘mobility’ services as vehicle ownership models evolve. The fundamental legislative issue is how to ensure safe and secure access to the vehicle and its data to ensure that competition remains possible.
    
For the UK aftermarket after Brexit, the key issues will be how the government act on these important points and how these will be covered in UK legislation. Obviously, the UK is likely to follow European Vehicle Type Approval legislation to ensure that vehicles manufactured in the UK can be sold in Europe, but the key question is if the RMI requirements will also be referenced and if so, with what detailed requirements. Potentially, the UK could still copy/paste the European Regulations into UK law, or could implement a different approach for RMI, just for the UK, but this could be both complicated and counter-productive for both parts manufacturers and the aftermarket, as one of the future requirements may be the extension for the type approval of replacement parts, especially for ADAS and autonomous vehicles.
    
The position of the UK Government today (ahead of Brexit) has been to support manufacturing as a longer term post-Brexit strategy, but as the UK aftermarket represents almost 70% of the post-production services market, this also needs to be an integral part of life after the EU. Clearly a lot of important political work will need to be done after Brexit, both in the UK and Geneva to ensure a continued healthy and vibrant UK aftermarket.

xenconsultancy.com

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