updated 3/13/2006 1:09:29 PM ET 2006-03-13T18:09:29

Automakers BMW AG and General Motors Corp. have agreed to allow their dealers to sell and service other brands under pressure from EU antitrust regulators, the European Commission said Monday.

“As a result of our investigation and our contact with the two companies, they have now amended their practices so that consumers will now be able to buy other brands of cars from dealerships that were previously exclusively for BMW, Mini and General Motors,” said EU spokesman Jonathan Todd.

The Commission closed investigations into both companies after they changed distribution and servicing agreements, ending clauses that prohibited dealers from selling rival brands and allowing all repair shops to join the automakers’ authorized networks.

Dealers had complained that the companies broke EU competition rules by restricting the way dealers and repairers did business — from insisting they pass on information on rivals’ sales to prohibiting them from using non-authorized repair tools.

The Commission said BMW had changed contracts that hindered dealers and repairers from using their facilities to sell or service rival cars. It said the German company no longer asks dealers to pass on commercially sensitive information on their business with other brands.

BMW denied it had changed contracts with dealers, rather saying it had made public clarifications on its contracts and general guidelines on multi-brand dealerships that had led the Commission to reject all complaints from a BMW dealers’ group.

“The European Commission has confirmed that our dealers’ contracts meet the new competition rules in the car sector,” it said in a statement.

Regulators were also concerned that GM contracts deterred dealers who wanted to sell other brands. U.S.-based GM has now removed penalties for dealers who don’t reach sales targets and said it would set future targets with their agreement.

BMW has also dropped rules that effectively limited the number of authorized repairers in one area. Both BMW and GM now allow them to source all tools and IT equipment from the suppliers of their choice.

The Commission said BMW had ended its cold shoulder of “stand-alone” repairers — who do not sell new BMW cars — during the investigation. In some countries, BMW previously omitted these companies from the directory of official repairers on BMW’s Web site, service booklets and the navigation system installed in BMW cars.

EU regulators said the probe was prompted by complaints from the European BMW Dealers’ Association and the French, German, Spanish and Italian Opel dealers’ associations. GM sells the Opel brand in Europe.

Todd said the problems were limited to BMW and GM and the Commission was happy that other carmakers were working within EU rules.

The latest Commission figures showed retail car prices were increasing less than the rate of inflation and prices had come down in some Eastern European countries, he said.

Car prices vary widely across Europe. For example, German buyers pay 30 percent — or 2,700 euros ($3,250) — pretax more on average than Finns for one of Europe’s most popular cars, the Fiat Punto, the Commission said in September.

Car retailers argue that price gaps reflect different specifications and take into account different levels of car tax levied by national governments.

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