R2R and Russian MB dealers: An uncomfortable connection

by | Aug 17, 2023 | 1 comment

right to repair R2R

When the news came out about Mercedes-Benz’s moves in Russia to block dealers from accessing its repair information portal, frankly I welcomed the news.

I viewed it as a reasonable response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, and even setting politics aside, I saw it as a reasonable measure that I felt was probably related to concerns over cybersecurity or as part of its exit from Russia.

Andrew Ross, Publisher and Director of Content

As the hours and days wore on, however, my concern over what this might mean to the automotive aftermarket in the west, and in particular in Canada, grew.

First, here’s a recap of the situation: late last year, Mercedes-Benz AG announced it was effectively leaving Russia and would be selling off its holdings there. This spring, all operations were sold to private interests in Russia: the dealers, the financial arm, a manufacturing plant – all of it with a buyback option that would allow MB to re-enter the market at some point in the future.

Then in early August, Mercedes-Benz said it was permanently blocking access to the repair information portal for the dealer network there.

Some reports say that BMW and other automakers have made similar moves. (I think you can understand why Russian dealers of all stripes might not be anxious to talk about any of this, so the information is a bit sparse.)

To reiterate though: at least one OEM has blocked access to repair information for a dealer network selling its vehicles.

MB RUS (the distributor) stated that repair and maintenance of vehicles will now be conducted based on locally accumulated experience and expertise. “Dealers are disconnected from the manufacture’s online software systems,” MB RUS told the Izvestia news organization. “In some cases, the lack of access to online systems will result in extended repair times.”

“Restrictions are being circumvented with the help of third-party software and parts sold on marketplaces. The term ‘official dealer’ loses its significance, essentially,” says the Association of Russian Dealers.

I think it is important for me to add that I don’t care one iota about the well-being of the Russian Mercedes-Benz dealership network. And yes, some are using EU IP addresses as a workaround, leaning on third-party information providers, etc.

But if you turn this situation on its head and imagine a situation here in Canada where, for whatever reasons justified or not, an automaker just decides unilaterally to block access to repair information to the aftermarket, it is an undeniable justification why we need to have right to repair entrenched in law.

To be clear, I have no indication whatsoever that any of the OEMs in North America are contemplating a complete block of repair information to either their own dealership networks or the aftermarket at large. But the Russian example, and by extension, what could happen here given our world of unforeseen future circumstances, is more than a little chilling.

Yes, there are robust aftermarket resources at your disposal, but in some cases (and possibly even more as we move forward into a new technological age), there will be gaps. There are already functions – calibration procedures, software updates, etc. – that are only possible, or only effected efficiently, with access to the OEM service portal. Those gaps will cost consumers time and money.

Currently, the continuing and very effective voluntary agreement used as the foundation for the NASTF activities continues to be just that: very effective. In Canada, our CASIS agreement, while definitely outdated, is still largely effective.

But the writing is on the wall. I don’t think it’s very difficult to foresee situations where one or more original equipment manufacturers would exit a voluntary agreement.

Justifications could range from overblown cybersecurity concerns to pressure from dealer networks (the Russian dealer association stated that the move meant “official dealer” loses its significance) to bolster the value of their position.

I am trying very hard here not to wade into fear-mongering territory, in full recognition that the situation in Russia has its own particulars that we are unlikely to see domestically.

But that doesn’t mean a whole set of different conditions couldn’t result in the aftermarket being locked out here.

I am a little disappointed that some industry groups in the U.S. are fracturing in their support for a legislative approach there. I can appreciate the position, and I’m sure they are looking at building out and building forward on existing voluntary agreements, and that they see little justification for pushing so hard for legislative agreement. But I do worry that it’s not enough.

I applaud the groups north of the border – in particular, AIA Canada – and the many individuals across the country whose efforts go a long way to ensuring that drivers in Canada will have the choices they deserve.

We all know that no individual dealership network can handle all the repairs for any given brand of vehicles in operation. Demand for their services on even late-model vehicles is regularly outstripping their capacity to conduct timely service.

Considering that, a legislative right-to-repair approach might even be welcomed by OEMs, as it would give them cover if there’s pressure from dealers to block access to the aftermarket, and help them protect their brand. The reality is that for mass-market vehicles, the ability to have local service is a critical consideration in the purchasing decisions of the Canadian public.

Entrenching right to repair in law ensures in every reasonable way that consumers have choice, that their investment in their vehicle is protected, and that they can continue to have the most effective and efficient service for their vehicle wherever they choose to go.

Now and into an uncertain future.

1 Comment

  1. Kevin Fleury

    Andrew, this was a fantastic article. Great work buddy


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *