BLACKBUSHE AIRPORT, United Kingdom - Asked why it has been such a struggle to establish wholesale auto auctions on mainland Europe, British Car Auctions Chairman Tom Gibson launches into his ordeals with commissaires priseurs.
Since Napoleon's time, auctions in France have been controlled by members of this profession, roughly the French equivalent of auctioneers.
The difference between commissaires priseurs in France and auctioneers is that the CPs, as they are known, are the only people in France allowed to auction secondhand goods. So they enjoy a virtual monopoly, Gibson says. That monopoly is a major reason wholesale auctions have not taken hold in France, one of the largest potential markets.
To conduct auctions, the CPs must receive what Gibson refers to as the equivalent of a law degree. In exchange for their trouble, they can receive a commission of up to 10 percent of the sale price of the goods being sold. The buyer pays that commission.
The arrangement works fine for the private auction of a painting or an antique dresser, but not for the wholesale auto auction business. An auto dealer who has to pay such a fee for a wholesale purchase essentially is forfeiting his profit margin, Gibson says.
Gibson's lawyers tell him that there soon will be a resolution of the CP issue with the French government. The CP companies, several of which operate car auctions in France on a limited scale, probably will give up their monopoly in exchange for some kind of fee or commission. But Gibson has seen too many delays to be optimistic about a quick resolution.