BRUSSELS - European suppliers have begun a lobbying effort to win more control over their innovations from automakers.
Three years after transforming itself from a quiet industry association, CLEPA has begun a push on several fronts. For starters, the Brussels-based suppliers' association wants makers of aftermarket parts to be allowed to sell directly to European dealers.
That's just one area where the organization disagrees with its automaker customers, said CLEPA Managing Director Ralf Bergner.
Bergner, who took over the association in 1996, has led a drive to restructure the group and expand membership beyond national supplier organizations.
Before, CLEPA merely represented national associations. Today, it represents not only 15 national supplier associations but also 2,500 automotive suppliers with estimated annual sales of more than A20 billion.
CLEPA is now trying to establish credibility with the new European Commission - and make its positions known.
An independent aftermarket that can sell directly to all European dealers.
Individual property rights for supplier innovations and new technologies.
Supplier ownership of its tooling.
More say in dealing with warranty problems.
Supplier brands on vehicles with key new products.
Worldwide harmonization of standards and national regulations.
Bergner outlined the issues at the CLEPA Automotive Forum, held here earlier this month.
The conference was a chance for CLEPA to express its concerns to the new Commission and its president, Romano Prodi, as well as with ACEA, the European automakers' association.
Paolo Cantarella, chief executive officer of Fiat SpA and the new president of ACEA, outlined carmakers' concerns at the conference. He said carmakers and suppliers have become much closer partners in recent years.
'This partnership not only involves individual companies but the relationship between ACEA and CLEPA,' he said. 'If manufacturers and suppliers can work side-by-side to fully exploit their individual strengths and skills, we will have the foundations to reaffirm the leadership of the European automotive industry.'
Suppliers agree with ACEA on almost all issues, said Trevor Bonner, CLEPA president.
'On many issues we will adopt the same or a very similar position taken by the vehicle manufacturers. But we do have our interests to protect,' he said.
Access to the aftermarket could create a split between carmakers and suppliers. Europe's aftermarket has annual sales of A100 billion, but is dominated by vehicle manufacturers who repackage components and parts provided by suppliers under their own brands for sale to dealers.
Suppliers want a bigger piece of this market. But they are constrained by a European competition rule known as the block exemption.
Under the present block exemption rules - which expire in September, 2002 and are set for review this year - only carmakers can supply parts to dealers. The practice gives carmakers income they don't share with suppliers.
'The vehicle manufacturers are trying to dominate the replacement market more,' said Bergner. But he said the aftermarket could be opened up if the block exemption rules are changed.
He said CLEPA won't support automakers as they lobby for an extension of the block exemption. It will stay neutral even if changes to or elimination of the block exemption are proposed.
And during discussions about the block exemption it will lobby to crack open the lucrative aftermarket, 'and continue to push for adequate reflection of the genuine concerns of our sector,' said Bergner.
Also controversial is the need for increased protection of supplier designs and innovations.
'Our industry continues to take over more invention, development, design and supply of parts and systems for motor vehicles,' said Bergner. 'We want to protect its legitimate rights in this field.' Suppliers have complained that some automakers have taken design proposals from potential supplier customers and showed them to competitors, seeking a similar product at a lower price.
With increased use of Internet bidding and online commerce 'there is a danger that if we are not protected our designs will be given away,' said Bergner. 'Anyone who quotes on the Internet for an existing product, part or subsystem could underbid if he doesn't have to do all the research work.'
The Commission has asked CLEPA to state its concerns as it prepares a proposal on protecting manufacturers' design rights. The proposal is still in the draft form and the Commission expects to present legislation to the European parliament in the coming months.
Suppliers also want more say over tooling they have developed.
'Some manufacturers think they have the exclusive right to use these tools - even for the aftermarket,' said Bergner. 'We say not only is it against the law in Europe, but whether you pay 100 percent or partially for tooling does not give you the exclusive rights to it.'
Suppliers want to retain the intellectual property rights for tooling, he said.
'We want to make it clear when we discuss pricing whether tooling can be used for the aftermarket,' said Bergner.
As the supply industry is given more responsibility by carmakers, it also wants more recognition -such as having a supplier's brand displayed on a new vehicle. Bergner said that this is done in other industries, such as computers. For example, US computer-chip maker Intel has its brand label on nearly every computer sold.
'We think this not only favors our industry but will help to sell the final product,' he said.
Suppliers are also worried about European Commission proposals for changing product liability laws, which put more burden on manufacturers. Bergner said the proposed legislation could 'develop toward US conditions, favoring lawsuits.'
'We think this development must be stopped as it will increase risk and consequently cost and prices,' he said.
Suppliers also want makers to clarify who is responsible for which warranty part and to spell out the conditions and costs as part of the bid contract.
'We want to be a partner and not just kicked when something unpleasant happens,' said Bergner. 'As we take over tasks that vehicle manufacturers had we make mistakes. We want the discussions over problems to be as friendly as with a vehicle maker's own in-house division.'