The word on everybody's lips at the AM aftermarket conference held last week - super-complaint - could not have been more appropriate as one of the speakers was from the National Consumer Council. Did this coincide with the announcement of the next action in their threat to make a super-complaint to the Office of Fair Trading - yes or no?  Well, neither.  Following industry actions to meet the first of their two requirements - a plan for the future - a nine month 'stay of execution' has been graciously allowed to enable the UK auto retailing industry to put into place a working system of voluntary regulation - their second requirement.  Failing this happening, we were told that government legislation would ensue.

This dire message was reinforced by a representative from the British Standards Institution informing us of their intervention in this process to devise a system of 'kitemarking', and the steps retailers need to take to meet compliance.  The costs - around GBP1,500 in the first year and around GBP750 annually thereafter with a flat fee independent of organisation size.  It appears they have developed a whole new infrastructure to reach out to a huge number of franchised and un-franchised sales and service outlets - maybe over 10,000 in the UK.  In return compliant retailers can bolt yet another badge - the BSI kitemark - onto their premises and literature.  A tidy piece of empire building!

I was surprised to see the audience of franchised car dealers make no adverse reaction despite yet another administrative burden/operating cost being forced upon them over and above meeting international quality standards, their franchisors' requirements and the myriad of technical regulations such as environmental and consumer legislation.  Perhaps they are hoping either that this additional cost will finally drive their small un-franchised competitors out of business, or maybe they are just resigned to jumping yet another hurdle to stay in business.

But what of the small independent service workshop and used car site who make their own valued contributions to the economy?  I think they had better hope the code remains voluntary and does not become a trading requirement.  The on-cost and time involvement on top of everything else they would need to finance somehow, could be just the final straw.  While membership and compliance remains voluntary there is nothing to stop these very small businesses opting out provided they can keep all their customers delighted - and many of these businesses instinctively do just that.

But will it as usual be a case of everybody suffering because a small minority of rogue traders is not being properly policed by Trading Standards Officers?  Is this new invention of the motor industry BSI Kitemark just another sledgehammer to crack a nut?

Mike Wattam