Clubs in battle for cheaper car spare parts
Publication date: 15 February 2008
There are liberalized spare parts markets in Belgium, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, Spain and the United Kingdom. In Greece, designs are protected for five years. Design protection gives manufacturers a profitable monopoly in Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Finland, France, Lithuania, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Sweden. However, if EU ministers follow the decision of the European Parliament, then suppliers will be able to make and sell for repair purposes automobile components that are identical to the originals without infringing design protection.
Clubs in battle for cheaper car spare parts
The European Parliament has finally adopted a decision backing the European Commission's proposal to end design protection for visible car spare parts such as such as body panels, bumpers, bonnets, car glass, lights and wings.
Clubs received a long-awaited Christmas present at the end of 2007. Following much internal haggling and a last minute attempt to overthrow the proposal, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) adopted a five year transitional period before the EUR 10 billion spare parts market. This will eventually introduce greater price competition and choice for some 260 million EU motorists.
The vote was good news for the FIA European bureau and clubs after 17 long years of patient lobbying, together with a host of allies including European consumers, small business, insurers, and independent car spare parts manufacturers. To make their lobbying more effective in Brussels, all these groups joined forces in recent years to form ECAR, the European Campaign for the Freedom of the Automotive Parts and Repair Market. So it was a truly historic moment when the EP adopted amendments proposed by German conservative Klaus-Heiner Lehne to the so-called Design Directive (98/71/EC).
The European Bureau and club members have long argued that design protection is unjustified and gives car manufacturers an effective monopoly in many EU countries. Speaking in the European Parliament (EP), even European Commissioner Charlie McCreevy argued that consumers pay 6% to 10% more for spare parts in countries with design protection. Club members know the markup for spare parts can be much higher due to the lack of competition. The consumer, who pays for the design when purchasing a new car, also has to fork out again and again for the “design” with the purchase of each replacement spare part.
Clubs, though, will have to wait before telling members that spare parts will be cheaper. Grand car manufacturing nations France and Germany, and their allied assembly nations Romanian, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, still form a blocking minority in the Council of Ministers. This is where members states of the European Union decide whether or not to accept or modify decisions by the European Commission and Parliament. Clubs, through their lobbying in national countries, are best placed to explain the real issues to their respective national ministers in die-hard countries like France and Germany. Clubs can also help change minds in EU Member States that are considering abolishing design protection such as Denmark, Finland (initially worried about Nokia designs) and Sweden.
Rumors amongst Brussels lobbyists point to consensus-oriented Slovenia being reluctant to touch the issue during its six-month Presidency. As we see in this issue of GO NEWS, Slovenia's EU Presidency, is followed by France and the Czech Republic. These are two of the countries most vigorously blocking any liberalization of design protection rules even coming on to the agenda in discussions between ministers. "It is ridiculous. We cannot endlessly lobby on this issue for yet another seventeen years. We need clubs to help us by convincing their national ministers to unblock this issue and finally free the market for car spare parts," said Caroline Ofoegbu from the FIA's European Bureau.
German Green MEP, Heide Rühle recently caught the mood of the majority of MEPs calling on national governments, including her own, to stop their blocking tactics. Politics should once again, believes Rühle, become the servant of consumers and citizens, not powerful lobbying interests.