New European Commission proposals to replace so-called block exemption arrangements, which are due to expire in September should enable car dealers to sell more than one brand of cars and make it easier for independent garages to service vehicles, the BBC reported on its website.

They will also help make it easier to buy cars across European borders, including via the internet, car dealers' obligations to service cars they have sold are to be removed and manufacturers will also be required to offer dealers similar volume discounts to those offered by fleet buyers, the BBC added. Car suppliers would also be asked to remove contract-hire price differences between private and fleet buyers.

The BBC said that officials claimed that the proposals would promote consumer rights and dismantle the power of car manufacturers.

"The Commission is putting car buyers first," president Romano Prodi told the BBC. "People want a real choice. They want to buy cars and obtain services wherever it is most advantageous, to have a choice of brands and models, and to have high quality after-sales servicing at a reasonable price."

But the BBC said the plans were condemned by German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who warned they could prompt job losses in the country's influential vehicle manufacturing industry.

The BBC said that consumer groups and 'non-traditional' dealers, such as car supermarkets and online showrooms, have long argued that the current block exemption rules have robbed consumers of choice.

Car makers want to avoid supermarket-style car showrooms owned by independent car distributors, arguing that consumers would lose out if specialist after-sales care was put at risk, the BBC added.

The BBC said that analysts say the commission will probably not fully liberalise the car market and they believe the changes will have little effect for car buyers anytime soon.

Steve Evans, chief executive of independent price monitor, CarPriceCheck agreed, saying: "Change will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary, but it's clear that the interests of the consumer have been put first.
"All retailers have been trying hard to offer more competitive pricing for the past 12 months or so. By removing some of the manufacturers' shackles, they will undoubtedly find themselves in a better position to react even more positively."
Evans said that many of the top 50 dealer groups in the UK already import stock direct from European dealers and offer them at 20-25 percent off 'official' list prices.
"Such practice will soon be free of the spectre of manufacturer controls, and with it more deals of a similar ilk will find their way to the consumer," Evans said.
Evans claimed that 89% of buyers put price as the most important factor when choosing their next car, "and that's what the consumer will be looking for as the changes come into effect. The new rules give the consumer greater choice, and dealers and retailers improved freedom to compete for customers.
"Thanks to the internet, the consumer now has ready access to transparent pricing and a whole host of new retailers to choose from. The consumer has changed, and the EU has recognised that it was about time the market changed with them," Evans added.