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Inside the Auto Care Advocacy Program

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At its core, the automotive aftermarket is truly an industry of independent businesses, says Aaron Lowe of the Auto Care Association (ACA). “It’s one of the hallmarks that makes this industry great,” he says. 

But when it comes to legislative or regulatory issues that have potential for large impacts on the aftermarket, Lowe says that industry stakeholders staying isolated in their segments does no one any good. 

As the ACA’s senior vice president of regulatory and government affairs, Lowe is one of the founders of the Auto Care Advocacy Network, a joint effort between the ACA, the Alliance of State Automotive Aftermarket Associations (ASAAA), and the Alliance of Automotive Service Providers (AASP) to create a more comprehensive and systemized industry-wide response to legislative and regulatory initiatives, both nationally and in the states.  

At its core, it’s a grassroots network aimed at giving industry stakeholders a voice on the issues that affect them the most, Lowe says. 

Formed in early February, the network is still in its infancy, but as Lowe explained in an interview with Ratchet+Wrench, it has large ambitions.

Can you describe the idea behind the formation of the network?

Courtesy Aaron LoweReally, this whole thing came about because we’ve been talking about how many resources we have as an industry—we have shops and distributors and reps and manufacturers—in virtually every state and district in the country, and this is a huge grassroots resource that we haven’t really tapped as effectively as we’d like to from a legislative point of view.

So the discussions became, “How can we better leverage our state groups and our presence in the states to better impact legislative proposals, whether negatively or positively?”

That was what morphed into a more formal framework of the network that we’ve developed to help coordinate our responses on legislative initiatives on either the state or national level if they warrant action.

It isn’t something that’s brand new. It was a fairly long-planned process. But, now, we feel like we have the mechanism in place to move forward and it’s really exciting for our industry to work together on issues in a more coordinated fashion.

How important is it for the industry to have a unified voice?

The goal is that when there are issues that are of mutual importance, then we would work together in a coordinated fashion.

Hopefully, having this coordinated effort provides a more powerful and effective voice when we try to meet with a piece of legislation. Grassroots is so important now in lobbying. And it isn’t just massive grassroots—just sheer size—it’s effective grassroots. It’s having people who have relationships with legislators and having a much more focused lobbying campaign. If you look at our industry compared to others, we’re so well placed in so many different districts that we should be a very effective lobbying group, and hopefilly this will help that come to fruition.

Why is this important to the average shop owner?

One of the hallmarks of our industry is being independent. A lot of these shops started from scratch and worked hard to build their businesses. While that’s one of the things that makes the industry great, when it comes to legislation, working together is a much more effective route to address it. As an industry, we’re much stronger when we work together.

The hope is that, while we’re always going to be competing against each other, when it comes to legislative threats or positive legislation, we are going to work together and set aside our competitiveness and work to address those issues. The message is to participate and get involved in your local associations, and when the need arises, become a part of the lobbying efforts, because it will be good for the industry in general, which will come down to being good for the businesses individually.

What are the biggest issues coming down the road?

Long term, it’s access to embedded telematics systems on vehicles. These systems probably hold the key to the dealers and vehicle manufacturers developing a longer-term relationship with that vehicle owner than they would normally be able to. They have a huge amount of data and information on those systems that will be important to the independent repair industry. 

The technology has a lot of value to car owners and to safety and to repairing those vehicles, but unless our industry has access to those embedded systems, I think the control of the vehicle, in terms of where it gets repaired, will be strengthened for the dealers and automakers.

Our goal is for that vehicle owner to control that data and choose between the dealer and the independent. Right now, that data is controlled by manufacturers. 

Where would the network come in for a situation like that?

Our hope is that this is something that we can negotiate, as one collective voice, with manufacturers on. But this could become a legislative issue in the near future, which would require a larger effort on our industry’s part to ensure a proper outcome. That’s where this entire program comes in. 

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