European Automotive Supplier body, CLEPA, continues to power its members’ interests in Brussels as well as act as the Continent’s arm in negotiations with its Japanese equivalent in JAPIA and American counterparts, OESA. Simon Warburton talked to CLEPA CEO, Jean-Marc Gales at last week’s Paris motor show.

Formerly PSA Peugeot-Citroen board member, Gales has spent most of his career in the auto business, mainly with Mercedes-BenzVolkswagen , General Motors and BMW . CLEPA now counts among its number some 96 of the world’s most prominent suppliers for car parts, systems and modules, while 26 national trade associations and European sector bodies are also members.

CLEPA represents companies employing more than three million people and covers all products and services within the automotive supply chain.

J-a: How does the European Commission (EC) view CLEPA?

J-MG: “The EC trusts us because we are a political institution, but we deal with what is feasible. There is a [feeling] the bigger you are in Brussels, the more important you are. I already had contacts in Brussels and it helped a lot.”

j-a: What does CLEPA think about the ambitious emissions targets set by the Commission of 95g and even lower?

J-MG: “Brussels needs CLEPA to move to 2025 and not to overburden the automotive industry – we discuss smart regulation – I am very happy and satisfied the EC shares that view.

“[Some] 70% of innovation comes from suppliers – they are already working on 2020 and I am sure they will come up with great innovations – this industry is strong.”

J-a: Have you noticed any membership increase and if so, why?

J-MG: “We are now at 96 members, up from 89, the growth is coming from corporate. These companies want to have their interests represented in Brussels.

“We have [also] improved our contacts with the European Investment Bank [EIB] – there will be meetings in October and November – it is a great institution. They told me ‘we have not enough proposals from the automotive industry.’ Our members tell us ‘we don’t have enough competence.’ CLEPA acts as a matchmaker.”

j-a: You had a general meeting last week – what did you discuss?

J-MG: “We had a general meeting and we simplified the CLEPA statutes that have not been changed since 1994. So it was necessary to do it.

“We also increased the number people on our steering committee that has been enlarged. There is debate and the debate is strong, but as soon as we go to the [CLEPA] board, we are united. That helps us as the EC asks us: ‘Is that the view of the European suppliers?'”

j-a: How do the relationships with JAPIA and OESA work? Aren’t there natural tensions as you are all competing against each other?

J-MG: “CLEPA has ten JAPIA members – we have US members such as TRW – OESA and JAPIA also have European members. We discuss issues such as Intellectual Property and OEM warranties, as well as worldwide harmonisation of technical standards.

“The industry could save billions in validation if we could agree on standards – we are still quite a way from that. Worldwide standard – I know there are a lot of blocks but there is a willingness to do it.”

j-a: Several suppliers have expressed admiration at how the UK is dealing with its automotive industry – are there lessons other countries could take on board from Britain?

J-MG: “The UK has a willingness to simplify regulations and make the British automotive industry great again – we have a lot of admiration for that.

“The UK has, for the first time in 30-40 years, a trade surplus in the automotive industry. The UK is creative with engineering technology [such as] range extenders and introducing innovative suppliers back to the UK with a focus on powertrain and environmental technology.

“There is a conjunction between industry and universities [and] there is the Automotive Council.”

j-a: There is a major amount of uncertainty in Europe in particular – how does CLEPA view the next ten years for the industry?

J-MG: “Suppliers are in a good position because they have customers worldwide, not only in Europe. Next year will be around the same level [sales] as this year.

“Somewhere around 2018-2020, there will be 100m cars built and sold worldwide. This is not pure optimism.”

j-a: Could the EC do more to help CLEPA members?

J-MG: “We could clearly ask the EC to allocate funds for the automotive industry in Europe. We represent 7% of the European gross product, so we want 7% in funding.

“We are increasing our lobbying efforts – we have a breakfast on 17 October in the European Parliament [for example]. We are asking for a lot of money and are still looking for EUR5.5bn.

“We probably should have asked for EUR5.5bn a few years ago, but it is never too late.

“It is EUR5.5bn for six years. The automotive industry is the biggest private investor in Europe – most patents come from automotive suppliers – we see it [finance] as an opportunity [but] we know funds are tight.

“Credit access is a huge issue – funds need to go to Tier 1 and Tier 2 as well.”