It’s fair to say newly-installed European automotive supplier body CLEPA CEO, Jean-Marc Gales, has a busy in-tray to deal with in his first few weeks in office. Everything from Free Trade Agreements and over-capacity to repair information access will be on his agenda. He spoke to Simon Warburton at his HQ in Brussels on the state of play in Europe.

Formerly PSA Peugeot Citroen board member, Gales has spent most of his career in the auto business, mainly with Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, General Motors and BMW. CLEPA counts among its number some 84 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 covering all products and services within the automotive supply chain.

j-a: There has been much talk lately of over-capacity in Europe, perhaps as much as 20%. What can the supply side do to help that situation?

J-M G: “The supplier industry has done a lot of homework in reducing its capacity. We don’t see our members complaining about over-capacity – we had to adapt. The European market will not grow – we have become more pragmatic.”

j-a: CLEPA is known for having the ear of very senior politicians in the European Union and Commission – how do you view your role in that regard?

“It is indispensable to get to know the key players – this is why we are best here in Brussels. I have fixed a couple of meetings and will see them [politicians] face to face. Lobbying will be a key part of my work and getting the point of CLEPA through.

“The work of Lars [Holmqvist – former CLEPA CEO] has been instrumental in getting us a very good reputation and I want to continue that. CLEPA’s access to the key decision makers is unrivalled – that formed the attraction of coming to CLEPA.

j-a: How do you view the role of Europe within the Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) currently being negotiated?

J-M G: “We need a strong European Commission with the FTAs that is assertive, to ensure a level playing field and enforce the equality principle.

“If the automotive industry in Europe is to survive, we need FTAs that do not block our members from exporting. Absolutely, with CO2 and innovation, FTAs are one of my key priorities. Our clear position is tariff barriers should be abolished.”

j-a: CLEPA has campaigned to have better access for independents to repair and maintenance information (RMI). What is your view of the contentious issue?

J-M G: “We and the car makers have not the same opinion about information, but the consumer should have the freedom of choice. Why should a small shop not have access to that repair information? It should be so every key player in our industry has unlimited access.

“The EC is very clear – there is a clear mandate to give that access. It has been decided, so why should you block it?

j-a: Are there other issues you will be turning your attention to in your new role as CLEPA CEO?

J-M G: “There are still 140,000 deaths on roads worldwide. One of the quests for the future is active and passive safety. [The] Federation Internationale de l’Automobile [FIA] is in a lot of our meetings with CLEPA in terms of safety vertical agreements – we are absolutely of the same opinion. 

“In terms of emissions, the FIA does a lot. In Le Mans this year you will see hybrid cars – there will be an Audi and Toyota hybrid.

“A bus costs EUR180,000 – even if you fit a [safety] system that costs EUR1,000, safety is a major issue. [There are also] collision avoidance systems that either avoid an accident or decelerate.”