AM Online

The Big Picture: Industry on tenterhooks

Nine of the 2008 Power List feature in news stories in this week’s issue of AM. All of the others feature regularly in these pages over the course of the year. They are the people influencing your company and affecting the way you do business.

This year’s list includes 18 franchised dealers, 24 manufacturers, five from the body repair industry, two independent repairers, nine Government officials, five fleets and 15 trade body representatives – an eclectic mix that represents the diverse nature of the automotive industry AM serves.

The biggest news story this issue is the suggestion from the European Commission in its BER report due for publication in May that there is “no valid reason” to retain an automotive-specific Block Exemption.

The quote is from EC head of competition unit Paolo Cesarini – the man in charge of producing the new regulations ready for 2010.

The leak is thought to have come from a source at the German equivalent of the Office of Fair Trading. Each national OFT has been given a copy of the BER report for comment.

If Cesarini believes BER should be scrapped, the industry needs to sit up and take notice. BER will have a bigger impact on automotive businesses – manufacturer, retailer, repairer – than any other topic over the next couple of years; more, even, than an economic downturn.

The comment has been a bolt from the blue; there has been no suggestion by the NFDA and its director Sue Robinson that Cesarini has been anything but supportive during their many meetings and, in particular, when Robinson, NFDA chairman Paul Williams and legal experts Osborne Clark presented their strategy document to him last month.

How worried should the industry be? Cesarini is testing the water. No doubt he genuinely believes there is no reason to retain BER, but it’s highly unlikely he will recommend that the European Commission scraps the regulations in 2010. More probably is another dilution of the rules, paving the way for an eventual removal when BER gets its next overhaul in 2018.

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