9 November 2023
In its judgment of 9 November 2023 in case C-319/22 (Gesamtverband Autoteile-Handel e. V. vs. Scania CV AB), the European Court of Justice once again confirmed the obligations of the automotive industry to supply data to independent operators such as repairers, spare parts distributors and publishers of technical information, see here. This time the focus was on the action brought by the German Association of the Automotive Parts Trade (GVA) against the truck manufacturer Scania for access to repair and maintenance data.
The GVA, the German industry association for the independent automotive parts trade, complained that Scania's website only provides information on vehicle repair and maintenance via manual access. On this website, general vehicle information such as model, engine or year of manufacture can be searched for. Alternatively, the last seven digits of the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) can be used to search for a specific vehicle. The results of these searches can only be printed or saved on the computer as a PDF file, which precludes automated processing of this data. Only search results for spare parts information, as opposed to repair and maintenance information, can be saved as an XML file. Scania does not make the VIN, which can be used for searches, available to independent operators.
The decision again focused on what information must be made available and in what form. Another key issue in the litigation was access to the VIN and its role as potentially personal data under the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), in particular whether there is a legal basis under data protection law for sharing the VIN with independent parties.
The Court ruled that Art. 61 (1) sentence 2 of Regulation 2018/858 (type-approval regulation) obliges vehicle manufacturers to provide access to machine-readable and electronic records not only for spare parts information, but also for repair and maintenance information. A manual search option is not sufficient. There must also be no need to convert the data before it can be used in a software environment. Independent economic operators must be able to extract technical information from the format in which manufacturers provide them with the necessary data, and to store this data for further use immediately after collection. PDF files do not meet this requirement. However, it is not necessary to provide a database interface that allows automated queries.
Vehicle manufacturer databases must be fully searchable. It must be possible to search not only by VIN, but also by "additional features" such as wheelbase, engine power or trim level.
The ECJ also considered whether the spare parts database should also include the VIN. At this point, the Court addressed the question of whether the VIN is personal data and, if so, whether it can be freely disclosed by the manufacturer to independent operators. According to the Court, the VIN, as a mere alphanumeric code, does not constitute personal data. However, this assessment may change if the registration certificate is also available and a natural person is entered there. If the independent economic operators can link the VIN to a natural person with the help of other information, the VIN is personal data for them and indirectly also for the vehicle manufacturers. However, the GDPR does not prevent the obligation to disclose this data. This is because the obligation to provide access to information under Art. 61 of Regulation 2018/858 constitutes a legal obligation under Art. 6 para. 1 lit. c GDPR.
This decision provides further clarity on the scope and manner in which vehicle manufacturers must provide independent operators, such as repairers and spare parts distributors, with access to repair and maintenance information and spare parts.
The ruling makes it easier for independent operators to offer their services. However, as the Court did not recognise an obligation to provide an interface, such an obligation could arise soon. The Commission intends to present a legislative proposal on mobility data on 29 November 2023, which will also address the automotive aftermarket.
However, if the data access rights under the type-approval regulation constitute a legal obligation under Art. 6 para. 1 lit. c GDPR, then this circumstance may also facilitate access under the Data Act, as there is a legal basis for the data transfer.
With this ruling, the European Court of Justice confirms its position on the accessibility of vehicle data, taking into account both data protection requirements and the needs of independent players in the automotive sector. It remains to be seen how this decision will affect the future relationship between vehicle manufacturers and independent service providers.