The EU needs legislation on access to in-vehicle data

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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Credit: © FIA Region I

Laurianne Krid is Director General at FIA Region.

Making Europe fit for the Digital Age is one of the core missions entrusted to the current College of Commissioners.

Europeans must maintain digital leadership where we have it, catch-up where we lag, and move first on new-generation technologies; these challenges cut across all sectors and will have an impact on every aspect of our economy and society. The potential of European digitalisation must be fully grasped, so that our industry and innovation capacity are strengthened, whilst preserving the high privacy, security, safety, and ethical standards that Europeans expect.

In striving for digital leadership, the EU must focus on ensuring that markets work for the good of consumers, businesses, and society, whilst guiding industry and people through the twin climate and digital transitions. Digital leadership in a globalised world can only be achieved through establishing fair competition among companies, and thus ensuring that consumers can embrace change whilst benefiting from lower prices, greater choice, and better quality. This is the only path leading to a strong European technological leadership and strategic autonomy.

The single market, designed and improved over the last 60 years, is the right tool to address upcoming challenges, and guarantee that consumers remain at the centre of European digitalisation, by ensuring fair competition and consumer choice in both established and new digital markets alike. As it has done before, the smooth functioning of the single market, in line with the EU’s social market approach, will allow us to adapt to the modern economy and new business models, and enhance our industry, small businesses, and entrepreneurs to innovate, scale-up, grow, offer better services, and employ more people.

Data is central to all this. How businesses, consumers, and governments access, use, and share data is at the core of digitalisation and will always determine its success. This is why the FIA European Bureau welcomes the Commission’s European strategy for data, looking at how we can use and share non-personalised big-data to develop new technologies and business models that create wealth for our societies; the work being done on upgrading our liability and safety rules for digital platforms, services, and products, as part of the new Digital Services Act; and the proposed Data Governance Act, which will boost data sharing across sectors and Member States, by increasing trust, strengthening mechanisms to increase data availability, and overcoming technical obstacles in the reuse of data.

These horizontal legislative proposals, to which the European Commission will soon add the Data Act, are, all together, necessary to improve the conditions for data sharing in the internal market, by creating a harmonised framework for data exchanges. However, they are not enough: sector-specific legislation must develop, adapt, and propose new and complementary elements, depending on the specificities of each sector. Therefore, already in 2020, the European Commission identified itself the need for specific legislation, for example on the European health data space, and on access to vehicle data.

Although a legislative proposal on “Access to in-vehicle data and resources” was planned to see the light last year, some in the European Commission seem to suddenly believe that the Data Act alone could be enough to regulate access to data in the automotive sector. This is ill advised however: sector-specific legislation is direly needed in our sector to complement the Data Act baseline defining the rules for establishing the rights of businesses and consumers across sectors.

Given its uniqueness and the need to ensure fair competition in the repair and maintenance of expensive assets such as cars are, the automotive sector has traditionally been governed by sector-specific legislation. Digitalisation has the potential to revolutionize the way we use, maintain, repair, and insure cars; however, the existing sector-specific legislation needs some overhaul to keep allowing consumers to control and manage data flows that they generate while using their car and the innovative services related to its use.

The “extended vehicle” model promoted by vehicle manufacturers poses serious data protection and competition issues, related to the risks of foreclosure, discrimination, and monopoly of prices. The risks of lock-in effects, should a technical solution on access to car data be developed by an actor having a dominant position, are high in the absence of an EU Regulation, as it has been confirmed by several studies.

After five years of evidence-gathering, DG GROW came-up in 2021 with a study on policy options, which confirms that the “extended vehicle” impedes third-party operators to compete in digital products and services. Already back in 2019, an economic study commissioned by the FIA European Bureau estimated that, by 2030, the negative impact of the “extended vehicle” model for consumers and independent service providers could amount to a staggering 65 billion euros per year!

Consumers and independent service providers alike need a sector-specific robust regulatory framework on access to in-vehicle data that ensures effective market competition, innovation, and true consumer choice, and they need it now. If the Commission fails to deliver this framework, the risk is to let vehicle manufacturers impose their preferred technical solution to the detriment of everyone else.

Instead, the European Commission must favour the deployment of a technical solution allowing fair access to vehicle data for third parties, under the strict control of consumers, and subject to the “separation of duties” principle. Whilst we acknowledge the technical challenges around each technology, any further delay in the adoption of a strong regulatory framework increases the risk of unfair practices, which could only be addressed by competition law once the damage is materialised, forcing consumers to enter lengthy litigation procedures, which could prove to be too costly.

Digitalisation provides the automotive sector with fantastic opportunities, and it is fair that both vehicle manufacturers and independent service providers seize them. It is time for the European Commission and the French Presidency of the EU Council to make sure that consumers will be able to benefit from these opportunities too.

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