18 December 2015

Car manufacturers change online distribution terms following the intervention of the German FCO

On 15 December 2015, the German Federal Cartel Office (FCO) informally terminated its proceedings against German subsidiaries of the car manufacturers Ford, Opel and PSA Peugeot Citroen (PSA) after the companies changed their online distribution policies.

The FCO initiated proceedings against Ford, Opel and PSA in spring 2015 to investigate the so-called “internet standards” introduced by the car manufacturers which facilitated the referral of customers to brand dealers by internet-based car portals for the configuration and intermediation of new cars. As a consequence of the introduction of the internet standards, the car dealers had to restrict their collaboration with online sellers because of the risk of a significant reduction in bonuses and sales support measures deriving from the car manufacturers.

In the course of its investigations the FCO focused on the two big car portals autohaus24 GmbH and MeinAuto GmbH. On both platforms the customer configures a specific car (brand, model, equipment features) and receives an indication of a price for this specific configuration. After the customer enters into a brokerage contract with the new car portal, the portal finds a car dealer which is able to offer the customer the configured car at the price shown by the new car portal. If the brokerage is successful, the dealer pays a commission to the portal. The sales contract is concluded between the customer and the car dealer which takes over the relationship with the customer.

According to the FCO, the brokerage of new cars by online portals creates transparency for customers and therefore enhances competition between market participants. The FCO considers it an infringement of competition law for car manufacturers to introduce distribution policies which restrain the collaboration between authorised car dealers and new car portals.

In the course of the proceedings, Ford, Opel and PSA agreed to change their internet standards to ensure that they do not cover the distribution of new cars by new car portals which operate in the manner described above.

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