What does a Joe Biden White House mean for the automotive aftermarket? Auto Service Professional recently caught up with Aaron Lowe, senior vice president, government and regulatory affairs, for the Auto Care Association, to find out.
Lowe discussed possible scenarios in the following areas:
Right to Repair
Independent auto service facilities in the state of Massachusetts scored a big win last week when voters turned out in overwhelming support of "Question 1," which ensures shops' continued access to telematically transmitted diagnostic and repair data. This sets the stage for a bigger campaign.
“At the national level, we will be pushing for legislation that would mirror the requirements in Massachusetts," said Lowe.
“There will be federal legislation next year” and more state legislation “is a possibility. We’ve received a lot of calls from legislators about what happened in Massachusetts.
“I think a lot of Democrats - in the House, especially - have been very interested in the Right to Repair issue. The Biden administration hasn’t weighed in on it directly, but I predict they will be very interested in (the issue) next year. We look forward to working with them and educating them.
“Because of our win in Massachusetts, we think it gives us some momentum when going to Congress next year. We want to work for a national approach on (vehicle) data access. I think the voters in Massachusetts spoke pretty strongly. We’re hopeful this will translate into, at minimum, a national agreement on this issue. It remains to be seen what the car manufacturers choose to do.”
“We’ve heard that infrastructure spending is something (the Biden White House) will look at very closely,” says Lowe. "That is something we hoped would have come out of the Trump administration, but never did. It never went anywhere” under Trump.
“If Biden can push forward with a strong infrastructure bill, we will be very supportive of that. One thing we’re really interested in - beyond highways - is ports and making sure we can upgrade our ports.
“Our industry is very dependent on shipping, so that is a very critical area that needs to be addressed,” said Lowe. “We’re hopeful that will be part of any infrastructure package that comes out of the administration.”
Trade and tariffs
The continuation of tariffs on auto parts imported from China “is an open question at this point,” according to Lowe.
“But I don’t think you’re going to see a total backing away on issues related to trade with China. I think (the Biden White House) will continue to look at trade with China and increasing manufacturing in the U.S.”
However, Europe-based auto parts exporters and U.S.-based companies that buy their products could benefit from a transatlantic trade repivot.
“I think there will be a lot more cooperation in trade with Europe,” said Lowe. “What we’d like to see is a much more systematic approach to addressing trade issues - more predictability and more strategy. Overall, predictability will be helpful on all issues.”
If Republicans remain in control of the Senate after the early-January run-off in Georgia, "any action that occurs will have to have some bipartisan support. They’ll have to work together to address issues. The question is, ‘Will there be the will to address health care issues?’"
The U.S. Supreme Court is debating the future of the Affordable Health Care Act (ACA) this week. “Whether the ACA goes away is not a done deal. The courts will have to rule and that’s something we’re going to watch.”
“I think there will be a refocus on global warming policies and improving fuel efficiency,” said Lowe, who pointed to a recently announced order in California that would phase out the sale of new, gas-powered cars by 2035.
“We have the EV mandate in California. Will there be a (national) focus on that? I anticipate we’ll see a change-back from where we were to more of a focus on (environmental) issues and that will impact a lot of other issues in our industry.”
A lot will hinge on the willingness of polarized parties to work together, according to Lowe.
“In the current climate, will people want to work across the aisle? I don't know the answer to that right now. Capitol Hill is very partisan. There's a lot more rancor than I’ve ever seen.
“Biden is known for being able to work across the aisle,” said Lowe. “When he was in the Senate, he developed good relationships - even when he was vice president. Will he be able to do that with the current Senate? I think everybody will be watching that. If he can - and if he can bring together agreements on key issues - that will be quite a feat. A lot of people feel it’s going to be a tough road.
“There are changes the administration can move toward without having Congress’ ok - the direction of what the Environmental Protection Agency does and commerce and labor issues, which are going to be front and center.
“There’s a lot they can do without a congressional mandate. Those are the things we'll watch carefully and will be involved with in trying to influence.”