Déjà Vu All Over Again

One of the advantages of maturity is the ability to see how things progress over a period of time. In this case, I am referring to the desire of carmakers to own the copyrights on the parts and built-in technologies in and on their vehicles. The latest move towards this end is demonstrated in the Honda Service News Article A14100D. In this article, Honda says that safety systems built into the vehicle may work “abnormally … or not at all” if an aftermarket windshield is used to replace the original. This is just another in a series of actions taken by vehicle manufacturers to try to control their intellectual property and copyrights.

Let’s go back to when I first heard of these kinds of efforts put forth by manufacturers and their lobbyists. Twenty three years ago, House majority leader Richard Gephardt introduced a bill in Congress called the “Design Innovation and Technology Act of 1991.” It was designed to keep foreign parts out of the U.S. market and to promote the sale of domestic parts. The bill had some great ideas and laudable goals such as creating more American jobs and higher wages. Everyone wants that, right?

The problem was that the bill basically said a car manufacturer owns the copyrights to all the parts on the automobile they produce and can determine when and if those parts can be made by other entities. This would make insurance rates skyrocket and practically give a monopoly to the carmakers. Due to some skillful counter-lobbying efforts by the insurance industry and the glass industry, the bill eventually died in committee and never became law.

The next initiative taken by auto manufacturers was to copyright and/or patent parts and technology whenever possible. Some shrewd moves and legal manipulations were required to attain these results, but car companies made some small inroads. One of these actions was the introduction of “logoed” parts. A logo can be copyrighted, so if a part displays a corporate logo and the customer demands its inclusion, the price of the part goes up and the corporation makes additional profit, much like the NFL, MLB and other sports and corporate entities. All legal and above board. Who can fault a company for increasing profits? Plus, the insurance industry could simply use words (like and kind) in their policies to bypass the cost differential. It was a win-win for everyone.

However, this new Honda article creates a new concern. Everyone wants and is entitled to have a safe automobile. It is the obligation of all aftermarket suppliers and service providers to restore the vehicle to a safe condition after repair. Honda uses the statement “… (The use of ARG glass parts) may present unforeseen circumstances causing the driver assist or other safety systems to operate abnormally or not at all …” The key words in that statement are “may … operate abnormally or not at all.” May? Don’t they know? Is that a definitive statement that we, as automotive glass providers, can take to the bank and act on? I don’t think so.

So where do we go from here? If Honda is successful in requiring OEM glass on all the vehicles that have driver assist systems, then the odds are that other vehicle manufacturers will quickly follow suit. Why wouldn’t they? It would increase sales of OEM parts for their distribution centers, get the customers in to the dealer for OEM replacement parts and mitigate the cost of outsourced glass services. This would be a big win for the car dealers and a big setback for the automotive glass shops and distributors. Is this a concern for you? What can the AGR Industry do to stop it? I’d like to hear your thoughts.