BELGIUM: Independent parts makers group claims victory in block exemption dispute with Mercedes-Benz

By just-auto.com editorial team | 19 December 2003

FIGIEFA - the Belgium-based Federation Internationale Des Grossistes, Importateurs & Exportateurs En Fournitures Automobiles, or International Federation Of Automotive Aftermarket Distributors, is claiming success after pressuring the European Commission into ordering Mercedes-Benz to change 'Express Service' advertisements.

In the summer of 2003, FIGIEFA filed a complaint to the Commission regarding a Mercedes-Benz advertising campaign, in which M-B claimed that its authorised repair shops would only use Mercedes-Benz original spare parts. FIGIEFA argued that this hindered the freedom of repair shops to use quality parts from independent suppliers, which is guaranteed by Block Exemption Regulation 1400/2002.

As most examples came from Germany, apart from a similar case in Spain, the European Commission transferred (and supported) the complaint to the German Federal Competition Authority. In Germany, FIGIEFA's complaint was supported by the national independent aftermarket distributors' association GVA.

FIGIEFA argued that, by referring to the exclusive use of MB OE parts, the advertisement campaign created a certain expectation among consumers, thus pressuring the repair shops to refrain from using products other than Mercedes-Benz original spare parts.

FIGIEFA further argued that DaimlerChrysler's campaign constituted an abuse of market power against the authorised repair shops. In this regard, the 'Express Service' advertisement campaign was against the interests of authorised repairers and independent spare part distributors and violated one of the clauses in the Block Exemption Regulation. The German Federal Competition Authority accepted FIGIEFA's arguments.

As a result, M-B parent DaimlerChrysler committed itself to withdrawing any reference to the exclusive use of Mercedes Benz original spare parts in its Express-Service advertisement campaigns from 1 October 2003 and confirmed that its dealers/authorised repairers were free to purchase original spare parts or matching quality parts from other suppliers, and that they would not be hindered by any contractual obligation from doing so.

This freedom to choose quality products from independent suppliers is protected not only in Germany, but in all EC member states.

FIGIEFA's general secretary Sylvia Gotzen said: "This outcome is good news for the independent aftermarket. It shows that the EC authorities are willing to investigate well-founded complaints about vehicle manufacturers' activities. Working with its national association members, FIGIEFA will be monitoring similar advertisement campaigns throughout the EC."