BRUSSELS - European suppliers have begun lobbying 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 2,500 automotive suppliers with estimated annual sales of more than 20 billion euros, or about $19.5 billion at current exchange rates.
CLEPA is 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 last 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, CEO of Fiat S.p.A. 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 $97.7 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 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,' Bergner said. 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,' Bergner said.
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,' Bergner said. 'We want to protect its legitimate rights in this field.'
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,' Bergner said. '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,' Bergner said.