Tesla Beats Back Anti-Trust Repair Lawsuit, But Deere's Is Headed To Court
Elon's EV giant won an antitrust case over repair restrictions. A judge in Illinois ruled that a class action suit against John Deere should move forward. And: Join F2R's Repair Coffee this Sunday!
The past week brought good news and bad news from the front lines of the fight for a right to repair.
First the bad news: A class-action lawsuit alleging that Tesla violated the Sherman Antitrust Act by restricting the use of third party parts and services on its vehicles was dropped by U.S. District Judge Trina Thompson of San Francisco, Reuters reported. The case, brought by five Tesla owners, alleged that they were misled about the high cost of maintaining the vehicles - costs that are driven by Tesla’s ability to block the use of aftermarket parts in its vehicles and the ability of independent repair shops to service its cars.
Judge Thompson rejected those claims and said the plaintiffs “failed to show either that the alleged problems were ‘not generally known’ when they bought their vehicles, or that they could not predict the costs to keep their vehicles running.”
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She also said customers could not prove that Tesla coerced them into using its services and parts simply because they had bought their vehicles in the first place.
As we’ve written, Tesla engages in a number of practices that inflate the price of repairs- many of which are similar to the practices used by Apple and other personal electronics makers. For one thing, the company does not do "part replacement” and fix discrete, broken components. Instead, they only do “assembly replacement” - requiring owners facing the failure of a single component to replace the much larger (and more expensive) assembly that contains that part. That was how Rich Benoit, of Rich Rebuilds, was able to fix a damaged battery pack for a Tesla owner for just $700 (most of it labor), whereas Tesla quoted the owner $16,000 to replace the entire battery assembly.
Tesla also maintains a small, constrained, and centralized network of service shops and repair technicians. Many Tesla owners do not live close to a repair shop and face long delays and logistic hurdles to get repairs done.
Tesla’s win raises important questions about the cost of the shift to electric vehicles, as politicians, business leaders, and other elites preach the gospel of EVs as a silver bullet to stop climate change. While EVs eliminate the burning of hydrocarbon, the antitrust case highlights the bigger questions around resource consumption and the operating costs of EVs - issues that garner less media attention. With the repairability of EV’s in question, sky-high insurance rates for many owners and limited information from manufacturers on repairs, more EVs may lead to more unnecessary waste of key components like batteries, which are environmentally costly to produce, and that leach toxic materials into the earth once they are disposed of.
Some policy action is being taken to amend this, with California proposing a law forcing manufactures to standardize EV diagnostic systems. This adoption of standard diagnostic systems for EV’s would make repair more accessible and lower the prices associated with maintenance.
Regardless, Judge Thompson’s ruling is good news for Tesla and for other manufacturers seeking to restrict what their customers can do with their own property.
That’s not just speculation, John Deere jumped on the ruling in legal arguments that a class action lawsuit it faces should be dismissed. Like Tesla, Deere is being sued by customers (18 farmers) who allege that the company illegal constrains their ability to service and repair their equipment, through the use of parts pairing and software-based restrictions on access to information and tooling needed to complete repairs.
Deere in the (antitrust) headlights
Which brings us to the good news: As Reuters reported, Tesla’s victory didn’t put wind in John Deere’s sails. Instead, U.S. District Judge Iain Johnston in Rockford, Illinois, this week rejected John Deere's effort to dismiss the consolidated lawsuits that accuse the company of violating U.S. antitrust law. The judge said the plaintiffs had met legal thresholds to pursue their claims.
"According to the complaint's allegations, Deere has the ultimate control of the repair services market," Johnston wrote in his 89-page order. "These allegations are not mere legal conclusions. The complaint is chock-full of factual allegations to support this conclusion."
Deere has denied the allegations and will have a chance at a later stage in the case to dispute the merits of the farmers' claims in what the Judge anticipates will be a “long and expensive process.”
If the charges against Deere are proven to be true, Johnston wrote that the company’s founder, John Deere, “an innovative farmer and blacksmith who—with his own hands—fundamentally changed the agricultural industry,” would be deeply disappointed in his namesake company.”
Stay tuned for more on the Deere anti-trust case as it progresses!
Repair Coffee: A Chat with Nathan Proctor About The Year in Repair
Join us this Sunday afternoon for a Repair Coffee (get it?): a live, online conversation highlighting the latest right to repair news.
Our special guest is Nathan Proctor, head of the national right to repair campaign at US PIRG - the Public Interest Research Group. Nathan will chat with both of us and and recap some of the highs and lows of right to repair in 2023. We’ll also look ahead to what’s coming in the fight for a right to repair in 2024!
Anti-speeding technologies might be mandated in newer car models after an announcement from The National Transportation Safety Board. But while federal agencies have used cybersecurity as an argument to prevent right to repair, they seem to have no problem with the risks associated with software overriding drivers. Paul Roberts of Fight to Repair explains:
“NHTSA is allowing Tesla and Cruise to basically put vehicles on public highways that allow hands-free driving, without any formal vetting process around the integrity of those features, without any assessment of the cybersecurity risks associated with them… You’re opening a Pandora’s box here”
As EU nations implement repair-laws after the European Parliament passed a resolution, countries in Europe will require businesses to “prioritise repair if it is cheaper or equal in cost to replacing a good, unless the repair is not feasible or inconvenient for the consumer.” Additionally, spare parts and information will be required for ten years.
The current version of the bill has restrictions on part pairing and other software controls.
Reforming open-source software could stop tech monopolies, and could offer a better alternative to weak anti-trust enforcement, says Thienthai Sangkhaphanthanon at the University of Amsterdam. While tech companies receive lots of value from open-source software, they aren’t contributing enough to its upkeep and development. “95% of the internet software today relies on free, public source code” and these researchers believe changing how that code is developed can combat inequality while countering monopolistic practices of software giants.
Repairing a crushed trombone is easier said than done, but NYC-based instrument repair shop J. Landress Brass is making magic happen.
The high cost of EV repairs can lead to the trashing of working batteries. A lack of information and parts from manufacturers, compounded by soaring insurance rates for electric vehicles, is leading to premature deaths for vehicles that are supposed to be more environmentally friendly that gas-powered cars.
Footwear brand Veja opts for repair program instead of Black Friday deals. Posting on social media, the company offered free repairs at one of its cobbler locations instead of pushing people to buy more shoes.
Sony decides to skip part pairing for the The Playstation 5 Slim, making a “tool-free optical drive swap” possible. Arguments that the lack of part pairing will lead to runaway pirating have proven false, but the internet connection needed to make the optical-drive swap is still being criticized by folks at iFixit.