Asian automakers are taking advantage of the liberalization of Europe's car market to expand their sales networks.
While European manufacturers have used new competition rules to consolidate their historically large dealer networks, Japanese and Korean automakers see the EU's new car servicing and sales guidelines as a great opportunity to grow.
Asian manufacturers are recruiting dealers who have lost their franchises with European automakers.
Asian manufacturers have also welcomed multibranding after EU regulations made it easier for franchised dealers to sell different brands under one roof.
"We embrace the new block exemption regulations because it does offer us a great opportunity," said James Muir, Mazda Europe's vice president of sales.
Muir said the new rules allow less well-established brands to expand their sales networks.
"Do we want to be in one big showroom with piles of other brands? No," Muir said. "But are we scared of it? No." Muir believes Mazda's models are distinct enough to thrive on product comparison.
Mazda has expanded its sales network by picking up dealers that have changed franchises and by joining dealerships that are adding brands.
Automakers selling cars in Europe lost part of their block exemption from EU competition rules on October 1.
European manufacturers -- eager to keep their grip on car sales and servicing -- strongly resisted the Brussels-imposed changes.
"Established manufacturers have a substantial volume market share and are wary of change," Muir said. "If you have a lot, you can lose a lot."
Besides Mazda, other Asian automakers are taking advantage of the new sales rules to boost their sales offensives in Europe.
Kia is recruiting new dealers, said company vice president Charles Lievens. He said he is striving to attract big independent dealer groups who previously have not considered the brand. A GM Daewoo Europe spokesman said half its franchised dealers are multibrand.
"We help dealers who like to sell more than one brand," the spokesman said. "We encourage them to select a member of the General Motors family but we have no objection if a dealer chooses to sell a non-GM brand."
Mario Monti, the EU commissioner for competition policy and champion of the car-market liberalization, has admitted that the new rules might favor non-EU carmakers.
Monti told Agence France-Presse that carmakers that aren't dominant, such as Asian brands, are more likely to take advantage of the more open auto sales environment and encourage multibrand sales.
In some cases European manufacturers demanded investments such as showroom upgrades that were so high that smaller dealers could not meet them.
Smaller dealers and sub dealers were the ones weeded out, said Philip Wade, author of the GMAP European car distribution handbook.
He said the major manufacturers want larger showrooms so they can cut dealer margins and sell more cars per dealer.
BMW and VW fought public battles with their dealers in Germany over the new contracts they offered their franchise partners.
Germany's Opel dealers threatened last month to defect to other brands. They claim they are not earning enough on the new contracts they signed in October.
Jürgen Creutzig, president of the European Council for Motor Trades and Repairs, which represents the European retail motor industry, agreed that the culling by established western European carmakers of their networks has benefited smaller brands, particularly newer Asian competitors.