Under rules adopted in 2002, the Commission intended to push through significant changes in the automobile sector by allowing car dealers to sell competing brands and to open showrooms outside their region. Before that, manufacturers could dictate sales practices to traders.
The law, known as the Block Exemption Regulation, also aimed to open up the after-market by liberalising the spare-part market and allowing independent repairers to get spare parts on the same terms as company garages.
On the basis of a study published by London Economics, Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes pointed out that, while the new rules had succeeded in freeing up the car distribution market - allowing prices to remain below inflation, to the benefit of consumers - the market for repairs was still dominated by manufacturers.
Indeed, independent repairers are struggling because manufacturers are not giving them “access to the brand-specific technical information needed to repair today’s sophisticated vehicles”, she said at a conference organised by the European Council for Motor Trades and Repairs (CECRA).
Furthermore, she added: “Authorised repairers still obtain between 87 and 95% of their spare parts from vehicle manufacturers [and] spare parts manufacturers have not greatly expanded their after-market operations, perhaps because they fear that this would jeopardise their long-term dealings with vehicle manufacturers.”
In 2008, the Commission will publish an evaluation report on the block exemption to evaluate whether it should be extended after 2010, as the sector is currently requesting.
In the meantime, Kroes said that she would continue to pursue anti-competitive actions by carmakers.