FIGIEFA, the Brussels-based European Federation and political representative of the independent wholesalers and retailers of automotive replacement parts and their associated repair chains, is celebrating the 60th anniversary of its founding.
Together with its 20 national European members, the International Federation of Automotive Aftermarket Distributors represents more than 30,000 companies trading with vehicle parts, components and accessories. It has a European supply network of more than 50,000 outlets, with some 355,000 employees.
Automotive Industries (AI) asked Sylvia Gotzen, Secretary General of FIGIEFA, what have been the main achievements of the organisation over the past 60 years.
Gotzen: FIGIEFA’s main goal is to maintain free competition in the market for vehicle parts, tools, servicing and repair and a fair level playing field for all market participants. One persistent theme is the need to remind policy makers that the automotive sector isn’t just vehicle manufacturing. It includes the independent multi-brand sector with more than three million employees and 500,000 companies. Without competition from the independent aftermarket at all levels of the aftermarket value chain consumers and businesses would have little to no choice – and no price pressure would exist any longer!
FIGIEFA has been appointed to the GEAR 2030 High Level Automotive Group, a European Forum regarding the present and future challenges faced by the automotive industry sector. We have also been instrumental in the introduction of a number of pieces of EU law, such as the Automotive Aftermarket Block Exemption, technical legislation on Repair and Maintenance Information, and the introduction of a standardised OBD connection.
AI: What are the main challenges going forward?
Gotzen: One of the most important topics is the introduction of the telematics technology – the ability for vehicles to be continuously “connected”. This is already happening, and the effect will huge for not just the automotive sector, but many others – leasing, insurance, and also travel related industries and entertainment. For us, the main challenge is to ensure that independent operators continue to get undistorted access to in-vehicle data, as the current OBD physical connection could be restricted in the future. Without a proper framework in place, access to the vehicle and its data – vital for all aspects of repairing and serving a vehicle – risks being channelled exclusively via the manufacturer of the vehicle in question, giving it unparalleled market intelligence and the ability to monitor and profile the aftermarket.
AI: Why is it important for the industry to have open in-vehicle electronic and telematics systems?
Gotzen: The term “open” refers to the need to ensure interoperability and continuous competition in the digital era. It is precisely why it is necessary to design a truly interoperable, safe and secure in-vehicle telematics system. “Intelligence” in the vehicle would allow customers to choose who has direct access to what data in their vehicle. European legislators have recognised this issue, and have called upon the European Commission to act in this regard by mid-2017.
A truly interoperable telematics system would, in short, continue to allow independent operators – whether garages, tool and diagnostic equipment manufacturers, parts suppliers etc. – to continue to operate in competition with vehicle manufacturers in the aftermarket, to everybody’s benefit.
AI: It is easy to see why independents want the technology to be open? Are there benefits to the OEMs and franchised dealers?
Gotzen: The franchised dealer businesses are likewise affected: The vehicle status information is directly transmitted to the vehicle manufacturer, and not to the franchised dealer. Vehicle manufacturers can decide to whom they would grant the repair job (which does not need to be a dealer or franchised repairer with the end of Block Exemption Regulation). But, most importantly, the telematics technology enables the manufacturer to be in direct contact with the customer and the driver in the vehicle, which alienates the role of dealers. For OEMs, a standardised interoperable platform would attract app developers for a wider range of services of interest to their customers.
AI: What is the significance of the ruling on the Kia guarantee in which the Supreme Court in Stockholm ruling that the OEM could not specify that services be carried out by brand workshops in order for the guarantee to remain valid?
Gotzen: The Guidelines to the Automotive Block Exemption Regulation provide that consumers have the right to have their vehicles serviced and repaired in the independent aftermarket during the vehicle’s warranty period.
AI: How successful are you in taking your campaigns global?
Gotzen: We have regular contact with the independent aftermarket associations of most major markets, including the USA, Australia, South Africa, and Brazil. Many parts of the world are looking to adopt rules to ensure a level playing field for independent operators.