The European Commission has decided that it will discontinue its annual 'Report on car prices within the European Union'. The report was last published in 2011 for average car prices across the EU in 2010 and had been produced for nearly 20 years.
The report has previously been used by the commission as a 'barometer' for levels of competition in the EU car sector and as a justification for certain policy decisions, including on block exemption.
The fact that, over recent years, the report had shown a steady convergence in car prices across the EU was, in part, relied on by the commission as evidence that the sector was working well and that a sector-specific block exemption was no longer needed in 2010.
The removal of the report means average car prices across EU member states (by make and model) have not been recorded for 2011 onwards.
This will result in a situation where it is significantly more difficult to verify whether the commission got it right on block exemption or, at least, to identify whether price differences are becoming more pronounced between member states, which might be an indicator of unduly restrictive practices.
TLT competition partner Miles Trower said: "The internet does offer more scope to compare prices between member states, but the value of the report was that it comprised a single and relatively consistent record of car prices for all different makes and models of vehicles across the EU at a macro level. A Google search simply isn't going to deliver the same information, certainly not in the same accessible or credible way.
"The report wasn't perfect and the commission may believe it's done the right thing in cancelling it. However, we only have their word for it now. If an authority has spent many years relying on a particular measure to assess competition and, in part, to take a recent major policy decision in light of it, it shouldn't then remove the measure once it's taken the decision so no one can check its homework. There ought to be greater accountability and transparency."
The commission justified its decision by saying that when the first report was launched in 1993, there were major car price differences among member states, it was much more difficult for consumers to compare prices across borders and that, since then, the situation has improved, in part due to enforcement action by the commission, but also thanks to the increased availability of price information on the internet.
The commission also says it has progressively treated car sales the same as the sale of products in other economic sectors and that the continued publication of the report is inconsistent with this approach.