My Perspective on California S.B. 750
Charlie Gorman, Executive Manager
On September 26, 2012 California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed S.B. 750 introduced by Senator Hernandez and sponsored by BMW. The bill sought to permanently exempt automakers from providing electronic key code information to locksmiths if they provide direct replacements through overnight delivery.
When the original law requiring automakers to provide key codes was passed in 2006 BMW was granted a temporary exemption until 2013 because they didn’t have a key duplicating system deployed in the field. All replacement keys had to come from an inventory held in BMW’s offices in New Jersey. S.B. 750 sought to make BMW’s exemption permanent.
I’m not going to say whether this is a good bill or a bad one. As with most arguments, I can see pluses and minuses on both sides. My reason for writing this article is to try to put everything into perspective for tool and equipment companies.
There are those who feel that S.B. 750 was part of a BMW conspiracy to withhold information from the aftermarket. They say that this is not just about keys, it’s about allowing automakers exclusive control over critical security data, thus preventing vehicle owners from making a choice as to where they can seek repair of their vehicles. They feel that BMW would have been given control of not only key replacement, but also the data and delivery software needed to make a BMW start after certain parts have been replaced. Is this true? Is this what BMW had in mind?
Having a brand philosophy does not mean you are engaged in a conspiracy.
When you buy a new or certified used BMW, you buy into the BMW brand philosophy. Does “The Ultimate Driving Experience™” sound familiar? You know you are going to pay a premium for a premium experience. That premium goes beyond the price of the car. It extends to expensive maintenance requirements, labor prices and parts and accessory prices. BMW’s philosophy is simply to provide, what is in their opinion, the highest quality vehicles and vehicle support possible. In order to carry out this philosophy they feel that they need to exercise a certain amount of control over what happens to their vehicles after they are sold. Since they can control their dealers and parts manufacturers but have no control over anything provided by the aftermarket, they tend to reject any service solutions not affiliated directly to BMW. Key replacement is one of these services. In fact, in the key replacement case, they even exclude their dealers. This is an important distinction between S.B. 750 and other “Right to Repair” arguments. BMW dealerships can’t make keys either. Yet, BMW dealers can repair BMWs even though they do not have access to key codes… so much for the conspiracy.
This bill was about consumer convenience, not “Right to Repair”. The independent aftermarket was already on a level playing field in this case. Neither the dealer nor the aftermarket could make replacement keys and although Jerry Brown’s veto can be considered a victory for locksmiths in California, it isn’t nearly as important to scan tool manufacturers or independent shops. Our battle has more to do with module initialization when computer components are replaced and that wasn’t what this bill was about.
As for consumer convenience, who knows? Like I said earlier, BMW owners know what they are signing up for when they buy the car and most of them seem happy with their decision.
The real question for me is what happens to these vehicles after they are no longer qualified to be certified used and have been passed down to their third, fourth, fifth and beyond owners? I’m talking about eight to ten year old vehicles and beyond. What happens when BMW or its dealers are no longer interested in these vehicles and the owners can’t afford to buy into the corporate philosophy? Will there still be keys in New Jersey? What if someone wants to put a used computer into one of these cars because there may not be a new one available or a new one is too expensive and would mean scrapping the car? This is where and when the aftermarket shines. It is what we do best. 8 to 10 year old vehicles land smack dab into the aftermarket sweet spot.
If BMW and other manufacturers really care about the ownership experience, why not make aftermarket support on older vehicles part of their brand philosophy? When vehicles get to be a certain age, release important information that will allow scan tool manufacturers, repair manual publishers, trainers, rebuilders and others to support them for the rest of their days on the road. It is the only way a great driving experience can be assured cradle to grave.