Suppliers are balking at European automakers' demands to disclose what their components are made of to ensure safe recycling of old cars.
The manufacturers making the demands are preparing for the European Union end-of-life-vehicle directive that takes effect in July. Automakers must certify they are not using dangerous heavy metals in producing their vehicles.
So manufacturers are demanding that suppliers avoid using heavy metals in components - such as lead in steel or aluminum alloys - or at least report their use.
But suppliers have two objections. They don't want to pay for the added paperwork of complying. And they don't want to reveal too much about how they make their parts work.
Suppliers fear automakers might pass their know-how onto competitors, use the information in negotiating parts prices, or even switch to a cheaper supplier and transfer proprietary technology to it.
"Suppliers are asking, 'What shall we report, and how, and who pays the bill?'" said an official in the technical department at CLEPA, the European suppliers' association.
An executive for a large supplier, speaking anonymously, claimed tracking and supplying the information could cost his company up to E100 million. The supplier expects to devote dozens of engineers full-time to tracking and reporting the data.
Carmakers and their suppliers will meet February 18 at CLEPA headquarters in Brussels to find a common ground. A first meeting took place in early December.
The heavy metals prohibited by the EU are: lead, hexavalent chromium, cadmium and mercury.
But more substances are likely to be banned in the future, carmakers say. The EU Commission is preparing a chemical policy that would make the industry prove that any material they use is safe.
"We could see that policy implemented fairly soon, perhaps in a couple of years," said Hans-Martin Lent-Philipps, director of environmental policy at ACEA, the European automakers' association.
There are signs carmakers are becoming more understanding of suppliers' concerns.
"Some wanted 100 percent reporting, to know the composition of all parts to the last atom," said one observer. "This appears to be changing."