It was supposed to be the next big thing in car retailing.
Starting October 1 a dealer group based in, say, the UK could open a showroom in any European Union member country.
The abolition of the so-called location clause would revolutionize new-car sales the way that deregulation of air travel in Europe allowed low-cost airlines to flourish.
But it doesn't look like any European car retailer group is poised to match the success of Irish budget carrier Ryanair.
Europe's biggest independent dealer groups say they will not take advantage of their new freedom to expand outside their national territories after October 1.
Cultural and language differences and tough competition in new markets are some of the obstacles. The stranglehold that automakers still have on new-car sales is another barrier, dealers says.
And now that new-car prices are becoming harmonized across the EU, there is less incentive for dealers based in countries where cars are relatively cheap to chase sales in countries where prices are higher.
"It's unlikely that we will seek to take advantage," said Dale Butcher, group development director of Inchcape, the UK's largest independent dealer group. "Our strategy is to work in partnership with our OEMs to identify opportunities for expansion."
Albert Still, CEO of German dealer group AVAG Holding, said the abolition of the location clause gave dealers "incredible freedom" that they cannot use.
"Our freedom is limited by the heavy investments needed to open new showrooms and because dealers cannot afford to upset manufacturers," Still said. "They want a structured, ordered dealer network."
Chance for entrepreneurs
But some companies could expand into countries with weak dealer networks whether automakers like it or not.
Reinhard Zillessen, Ford Germany's sales director, predicted that strong dealer groups will open showrooms in areas where there are poor-performing dealers that aren't supported by carmakers.
"Efficient and profitable dealers will look for opportunities," he said.
Jonathan Browning, General Motors Europe's sales and marketing vice president, agrees with Zillessen.
"The location clause removal will encourage entrepreneurs where there is untapped market opportunity and inadequately served customers. This may lead to some growth in outlets over time," Browning said. "Where there is an existing strong performing dealer, the opportunity for any new entrant is small considering the start-up costs versus likely returns."
Stefan Jacoby, Volkswagen's marketing and sales vice president, said the change could lead to more competitiveness among dealers.
"It is unclear how our franchise dealers will use their new freedom, but it could open up the market," he said.
A dealer would need significant support from an automaker to move into a new territory, Inchcape's Butcher said.
"Growth would be very slow without a customer database," he said, "and it would be difficult to achieve a commercial return by opening a new sales location in an existing franchise dealer territory."
Jürgen Creutzig, president of CECRA, the European Council for Motor Trades and Repairs, said: "Very few of Europe's franchised dealers will profit from the new freedom because they cannot afford the necessary investments and they do not have the ability to overcome linguistic and cultural barriers."