Newly manufactured Ford Fiesta cars are seen on the deck of the car transport ship "Tossa", during its journey from a Ford plant in the German city of Cologne
Newly manufactured Ford Fiesta cars are seen on the deck of the car transport ship "Tossa", during its journey from a Ford plant in the German city of Cologne to the Dutch seaport of Vlissingen, near the western German town of Wesel September 13, 2013. Reuters

Europe's car repair and spare parts industry is calling for a rewrite of EU competition rules, arguing they allow carmakers and franchise dealers to disadvantage independent operators.

The European Commission has recommended extending 2010's Motor Vehicle Block Exemption Regulation (MVBER) for five years when it expires in 2023, with some supplementary guidelines.

In January, European Union members are due to discuss the future of the rule, which has become another front in a growing struggle for access to and control of car data, as the EU is already working on laws governing access to in-vehicle data.

Proponents of a rewrite say automakers restrict access to vehicle data, which can make repairs more expensive, while also dictating how repairs should be undertaken and with which parts.

"In the last 10 years things have changed dramatically, the rules of the game are no longer the same," said Alex Gelbcke, chief executive of spare parts provider Fource.

"The regulation deserves an in-depth refresh and if that does not happen we will all suffer," added Gelbcke, whose company covers the Benelux countries and France. Fource's parent company LKQ Corp has annual turnover in Europe of around 6 billion euros ($6.4 billion).

Sylvia Gotzen, CEO of the International Federation of Automotive Aftermarket Distributors, which is part of a broader alliance of repair shops and parts makers that employs 3.5 million people in Europe, also called for changes.

"Car manufacturers sit on that data like a chicken on eggs," she said, adding that this makes carmakers "masters and gate-keepers for the entire repair process".

A spokesperson for the Commission said its evaluation had shown "there had been no material developments in the last decade that would justify a major revision of the regime."

"However, the evaluation revealed that an update was necessary to reflect the importance that access to vehicle-generated data is likely to have as a factor of competition."

The Commission needs to make a decision before the current MVBER expires on May 31, 2023.

The European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) said it supports the commission's approach.

"If the Commission has decided not to change the rules, we assume that the complaints made by the independent aftermarket were not sufficiently substantiated," a spokeswoman said.

Critics also complain automakers have increasingly relied on the use of "captive parts", which include software coding that often can only be accessed by franchise dealers.

Neil Pattemore, technical director of Britain's Independent Automotive Aftermarket Federation (IAAF) said to replace headlights on some newer models requires a code, or brake pads have QR codes, but only branded dealers have access to them.

Britain's Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) has proposed changes to its MVBER that addresses some aftermarket complaints, including using clearer language in vehicle warranties that consumers can use independent repairers without losing benefits.

Major European carmakers including, Stellantis and Renault did not respond to requests for comment.

Volkswagen said the current regulation "is still fit for purpose," but it also supports the Commission's approach to supplementary guidelines that would enable access for independent operators to "vehicle-generated data to the extent that such data is essential for repair and maintenance."

($1 = 0.9422 euros)