Tesla Beats Back Anti-Trust Lawsuit

Tesla Beats Back Anti-Trust Lawsuit

Every week, we get a roundup of recent developments in Right to Repair news, courtesy of Jack Monahan and Paul Roberts from Fight to Repair, a reader-supported publication. Sign up to receive updates in your inbox. (It’s free!) Or become a premium subscriber for access to exclusive content and live events!

The past week brought good news and bad news from the front lines of the fight for a right to repair. The bad news is that 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. The case, brought by five Tesla owners, alleged that they were misled about the high cost of maintaining the vehicles. The plaintiffs say these costs 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 those accusing “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.” 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.

We know that 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 manufacturers. For one thing, the company does not do “part replacement” and fix discrete, broken components. Instead, they largely 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. (It’s telling that the only two Tesla Model S guides on iFixit are for a fuse and the key fob battery.)

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 EVs 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 don’t yet have robust recycling pathways. The US Department of Energy estimated in 2019 that just 5% of EV batteries were recycled, although there are some promising pilots for EV battery reuse.

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 illegally 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.

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.

More News

  • Anti-speeding technologies might be mandated: The National Transportation Safety Board may require newer car models to incorporate new software-driven technologies to reduce speeding. But while federal agencies have used cybersecurity as an argument to prevent laws protecting the right to repair, they seem to have no problem with the risks associated with software overriding drivers.
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Guides for shoe repair and maintenance, keep your pair of foot apparel in pristine condition.

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  • New EU rules may require businesses to prioritize repair: EU Parliament adopted a negotiating position on new right to repair rules that would 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 would be required to remain available for ten years.
  • Footwear brand Veja opts for repair program: Instead of Black Friday deals, shoe brand Veja posted on social media that they would offer free repairs at one of its cobbler locations instead of pushing people to buy more shoes.
  • Reforming open-source software could stop tech monopolies: Open-source software 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.

Header photo via Can Pac Swire on Flickr.