After eight hugely influential years at the helm of one of Europe’s most powerful lobbying bodies, Lars Holmqvist is stepping down as supplier body CLEPA CEO to concentrate on other automotive projects. In the first part of two interviews, Holmqvist, a man who when he phones European Commission (EC) president, Jose Manuel Barrow, the phone is picked up, talks to Simon Warburton in his Brussels office before handing over the reins to former PSA board member, Jean-Marc Gales.

J-a: To what extent did you drive better understanding of CLEPA to the European Union and European Commission?

LH: “CLEPA and the suppliers were fairly unknown to the EC and to Parliament, so my first mission was to create an awareness – 75% of a car comes from suppliers – five million [people] work in suppliers in Europe. Slowly, slowly, it sank in; that was the first two years.

“I had been the president of [Scandinavian suppliers association] FKG before and I also acted for two years as CEO of FKG. I am lucky to have had that, otherwise it would have been impossible to negotiate politically. You can’t just talk about Euros and cents – you have to find a mission that is important, to find a mission that interests them [politicians] – to them it is jobs, competitiveness, safety and the environment – not if you have a fast car.

J-a: What were some of the main issues that confronted you on your arrival as CLEPA CEO?

LH: “When I came here, before I even took over as CEO, there were the global terms and conditions, we fought it very hard and brought it to the DG Competition in the EC, it resulted in a draw. There was an awareness of the dominant position of the car makers that resulted in a vigilant attitude from the EC. It has not changed much, it is still there, uneven.

“I talk to ACEA on a very regular basis – 80% of our cases are in line and 20% we have different opinions – among that 20% are vertical agreements.”

j-a: “What are the current challenges you think might also be in your successor’s in-tray?

LH: “We need to be more competitive as Europe, as we are facing tougher and tougher competition, new competition from new carmakers such as China and India, but also [in the] US, Chrysler and General Motors are much sharper and leaner. I think we need to be careful we don’t fight or compete with each other, that we don’t kill each other in Europe.

“The EC wants to create a Free Trade Agreement [FTA] with Japan that would mean 10% cheaper Japanese cars. The Japanese have very good cars, there is no question about that.

J-a: “To what extent does CLEPA liaise with other generic supplier bodies?

LH: “We have something called the tri-lateral meeting where CLEPA, JAPIA and OESA meet – this year it will be in Paris. We are not protectionist: take Bosch. They have the same customers and the same members of CLEPA, JAPIA and OESA. General Motors, the same, Continental, Faurecia, Valeo, the same. We are everywhere.

“You have Denso as members of CLEPA, Johnson Controls, TRW, you have all kinds of different owners but most of them of course are European.”

j-a: How do you see the automotive landscape changing in the next few years?

LH: “Carmakers will be more global. You can’t go on for ever to export from German to China, because sooner or later the Chinese will want those job opportunities

j-a: Repair and maintenance information (RMI) has been a particular campaign of yours – what’s the latest?

LH: “There has been some movement from the EC towards clarifying their position on information legislation. The EC has a different opinion about [how] they see the legislation – it is interpreted in a different way by suppliers and carmakers – we have one line and they have another.

“It has not changed the attitude of the carmakers; we hope they will change their mind otherwise we will end up in Court – they are aware of our position. They do not do anything until they are forced to do so. There are different options open to us. One is to ask the Commission to clarify to ask a company which is suffering from this attitude. The case could go all the way to the European Court of Justice.

“We are fighting for the individual aftermarket – our motives are very clear. We want to have more than one customer, but we also want to protect the car owners from the abuse where [there is] only one source of maintenance and repair.

“The EC has tried to do a good job, but it has not convinced the carmakers they need to change their attitude, so the EC has to do more.