Luxembourg (dpa) - The European Court of Justice (ECJ) could make a landmark ruling for car owners in Luxembourg.
The dispute between the Gesamtverband Autoteile-Handel (GVA) and the Korean manufacturer Kia is basically about the question of whether free dealers are disadvantaged in the spare parts business. Customers can hope for lower prices depending on the verdict.
What exactly is it about?
Produced cars receive a vehicle identification number. In a database - which operates a Kia-affiliated company - are stored under the respective number in the car parts. Traders can view the data stored for each number via a paid internet portal. Both authorized repairers and independent repairers receive this read access. You can see which original spare parts you need for a repair. However, you can not see if there are cheaper alternatives.
It is about a billion-dollar market with a volume in Germany of more than 26 billion euros. The repair shops have a share of nearly 40 percent.
What does the auto parts association demand now?
From the perspective of the spare parts association GVA - in which larger suppliers such as Bosch and ZF are organized - free traders would have better access to the data, so that they can be processed by spare parts manufacturers and workshops then each alternative parts lists can be made available.
The association pointed out that in an earlier case before the Frankfurt Regional Court in early 2016, it had already achieved "an important success" against Kia. At that time it was clarified with "Signal effect for the entire European motor vehicle spare parts market" that automakers have the duty "to provide independent market participants data for vehicle and spare parts identification in electronic form for direct electronic further processing". The Higher Regional Court (OLG) Frankfurt overturned the decision, however, the Federal Court (BGH), which was the last to deal with the case, referred them to Luxembourg.
What does the automotive industry say?
In the opinion of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA), there has been no significant change in the market share between tied and spare parts trade in recent years. According to a recent study on car spare parts prices in Europe, the spare parts prices in Germany tend to be at the lower end, said VDA spokesman Eckehart Rotter. "Consumers in Germany - as in the passenger car market as a whole - also benefit from intense competition here."
Germany's largest carmaker, the Volkswagen Group, emphasizes that, from its point of view, all standards are being adhered to. The transparency of the parts catalogs is ensured via the portal Partslink24. "Of course, you have unlimited access to repair and maintenance information for the independent market participants named in the Act", and entering the appropriate vehicle identification number is sufficient. Free competition in the parts trade is generally supported.
What must the ECJ now decide?
Basically, the BGH wants to know whether free traders and garages are illicitly discriminated against by existing practices. He wants to know in detail whether, under existing EU law, manufacturers must provide vehicle and parts information to independent dealers and garages in electronically processed form.
What do consumer advocates say?
From the point of view of consumer advocates, the success of the auto parts association could lead to lower prices for car owners. "Having free workshops access to spare parts databases is good news for customers. You can then expect prices to fall, "said Gregor Kolbe of the Federation of German Consumer Organizations. "Up to now, manufacturers always earn money because they make access to databases difficult. It's about a billion dollar market. »
Have you already had similar competition procedures for car parts and car dealerships?
Yes. In September 2013, for example, the Federal Court of Justice decided that owners of used cars can not be forced by car manufacturers to have repairs and inspections carried out only in authorized workshops - if customers do not want to risk losing the warranty for their vehicle. The judges ruled at that time: A warranty for older cars can not be coupled with a commitment to maintenance only in their own home branches. Many car drivers had reported that appointments with so-called workshop binding often led to a higher bill than when using a free auto repair shop.
Directive on access to repair and maintenance information
Documents of the ECJ on the case