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CECRA votes to retain current BER

The European Council for Motor Trades and Repairs (CECRA) used its recent conference in Brussels to call for a renewal of a specific Block Exemption Regulation for the automotive distribution and aftermarket industry after the expiry of the current regulation in 2010.

CECRA President Jürgen Creutzig says: “The current BER has already improved this balance, especially in favour of the consumer. A certain degree of protection of the weaker parties is necessary to ensure a competitive market for end users.”

It was recognized at the conference that automotive distribution is a ‘hyper-competitive’ sector and that there is still an imbalance between vehicle manufacturers and franchised dealers, repairers and parts distributors.

Despite this, CECRA voted to fight for the prolongation of the existing BER.

Creutzig says: “At the very least, a branch specific regulation is necessary due to the specifics of the automotive product, and in recognition of the large investments dealers and repairers make to offer the best possible service to consumers.

“This is also the case for guaranteeing unhindered access to the technical information repairers require to meet the needs of the consumers, and ensure they can have their car serviced and repaired in the repair shop of their choice.”

Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner for Competition Policy, says that since the introduction of BER, manufacturers’ operating margins and profitability ratios have remained low, while, contrary to what many forecast back in 2002, car prices have risen more slowly than headline inflation.

Consequently, although dealer networks have been reorganized to cope with increased inter-brand competition, the resulting structures are more efficient.

#AM_ART_SPLIT# In addition to ongoing monitoring of distribution, the Commission will continue to study developments in other parts of the automotive sector, such as cooperation and alliances between carmakers, and further upstream in the component supply markets.

However, Kroes warns: “Let there be no doubt: we will not hesitate to use all of the competition policy tools at our disposal to ensure that competition in this sector remains free and fair.”

Sigrid de Vries, director communications, ACEA (European Automobile Manufacturers Association), says that on balance the association is happy with how BER has been implemented.

“At the moment, there are still many areas open to individual interpretation, something which industry does not like,” she says. “This is not a criticism, BER is mid-term and so it is naturally still under development. But we are generally happy with what it has achieved.”

Mark Bull, director of the ABP club, says independent repairers need to have the technical information available at an affordable cost and, if possible, a uniform format.

“The cost of gaining technical data shouldn’t be prohibitive as this isn’t acceptable following Block Exemption,” he says.

Ray Holloway, director of the Independent Garage Association (IGA) agrees that access to brand-specific technical information for independent repairers must be changed.

“Strong competition is essential and healthy for all concerned in the motor industry. It is reassuring to know that the European Commission is closely monitoring this situation,” he says.

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