After failing to stop a referendum on the November ballot, a trade group for auto manufacturers sued Massachusetts on Friday in federal court to block a new state law that expands access to the diagnostic data collected by car computers.
The Alliance for Automotive Innovation argues in its lawsuit that Question 1, the so-called “Right to Repair” expansion initiative that voters overwhelmingly approved on Nov. 3, drives up manufacturers’ costs unnecessarily and threatens the privacy of car owners by exposing data on their vehicles.
Proponents of Question 1 say the new law gives independent repair shops important access to wireless mechanical data, enabling them to do some repairs on newer vehicles that might otherwise only go to authorized dealerships.
The lawsuit is asking the court to declare the new right-to-repair expansion to be legally unenforceable, claiming violations of various federal laws such as those pertaining to cybersecurity and intellectual property.
Question 1 was the most expensive ballot campaign in state history, according to state campaign finance records. The automaker-funded Coalition for Safe and Secure Data blew through more than $26 million by the end of October, narrowly exceeding the nearly $24 million spent by the Massachusetts Right to Repair Committee, which was largely backed by major auto-parts retailers.
The lawsuit reprises the arguments auto manufacturers made during the ballot campaign: that independent garages already have access to the data they need to fix consumers’ vehicles, per the state’s existing right-to-repair law.
Question 1, the manufacturers say, instead allows broad access to nearly all data generated by vehicles, which the manufacturers claim the auto-parts retailers will use to target consumers for marketing purposes. The lawsuit says this “data grab” is made possible by the new law’s broad definitions that make nearly all vehicle data accessible by third parties.
Of particular concern to the manufacturers: a requirement that automakers install a standardized “platform” on all cars equipped with telematic technology sold in Massachusetts by model year 2022. Since the first wave of 2022 models could hit the market as soon as January, automakers say they are being forced to implement the requirement immediately.
Central to the lawsuit is a letter that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent to a committee of the state Legislature in July that argued that the right-to-repair expansion could put the public at risk by creating new cybersecurity concerns, for example, by compromising the integrity of vehicle functions such as steering, acceleration, and braking. The federal agency recommended manufacturers control access to software that executes these vehicle functions.
In a brief statement, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Right to Repair Committee refuted the claims made by the auto manufacturers in their lawsuit.
“After spending $26 million only to be resoundingly defeated at the ballot box, the big automakers still don’t get it,” said Rob Gray, the right-to-repair committee spokesman. “Their baseless, anti-democratic lawsuit attempts to thwart the will of the voters and their customers, who voted by a 75% majority for Right to Repair.”
Matt Stout of the Globe staff contributed to this story.