Neil Pattemore – The Spectre of type approval for many more aftermarket parts looms large but is it safety issues or the VMs lobbying politicians that drive this change?
Business Analyst at XEN Consultancy for the aftermarket
Let’s talk about Europe. Recently the aftermarket’s offer of replacement parts has come under threat from draft European vehicle type approval legislation in Brussels. This draft legislation contains proposals aimed at ensuring that vehicles continue to comply with their original type approval requirements throughout their life, by approving replacement parts to ensure that they function to the same standard as the original parts used when the car was originally manufactured.
You might argue that the MOT test is there to verify that a vehicle and its systems continue to work correctly, that it’s safe and secure, with acceptable emissions levels, but this is not how TA parts and components would be checked.
To be fair, there are some key replacement parts that already need to be type approved. You’ll know most of them: windscreens, tyres, headlamps, catalysts, DPF’s and brake parts. These are all marked with an ‘E’ mark to show that they meet type approved requirements (the number after the ‘E’ denotes the EU Member State where the type approval was conducted – e.g. 11 is the UK). However, the legitimacy of the ‘E’ marking is the responsibility of the workshop that fits the part – who if challenged, needs to be able to show an audit trail from their parts supplier back to the original manufacturer’s certificate to prove that the part is legitimately type approved.
For just about every other part or component of the vehicle, many of which are not so easy to inspect, there is no current requirement for ‘E’ marking or any form of direct assessment. If a part is replaced and the vehicle remains safe, secure and roadworthy, it is perfectly acceptable.
It is not that the aftermarket has stopped offering quality parts and components – in fact it is just the opposite – there is probably more competition and choice of quality parts than ever before, but that simply being able to offer various parts and components is now coming under threat, even when some parts or components are of a higher specification than the vehicle manufacturer’s original parts. OEM parts and components are made to a price, not necessarily the highest possible specification.
The background to this issue is partly coming from the vehicle manufacturers who consider that although they are subject to type approval, aftermarket parts are not and this is deemed unfair. It is also emanating from ‘L-Category’ legislation – which is motorbikes, where there is a wish to control the (unregulated) replacement performance parts but in doing so can also impact the emissions, noise or safety of the bikes.
Meanwhile, VMs conduct ‘whole vehicle type approval’ which includes all parts and components fitted to the original vehicle, for the aftermarket this is much more difficult and expensive – each replacement part would have to be tested for each of its applications, meaning not only finding examples of the actual vehicles, but also the test centres that can conduct the type approval testing.
This creates a real threat to the aftermarket parts suppliers, who at best will have to comply with significant and burdensome type approval test requirements, but there is also a significant cost attached to this process. The result will be fewer and more expensive parts.
Critically, there is a huge question over the ‘proportionality’ of this proposal – there is little evidence that aftermarket replacement parts and components create any significant safety or emission issues. Additionally, if they did not fit and work correctly, then the vehicle would not function or perform correctly and may fail an MOT.
The claim is that by type approving aftermarket replacement parts it creates a level playing field between the vehicle manufacturers and the aftermarket parts and components suppliers, but I don’t see it that way – the European legislators seem to have been swayed by arguments from the VMs that the type approval of replacement parts is necessary – but this seems to ignore the point that the vehicle manufacturers have the most to gain and that it will ultimately be the consumer who suffers through having a reduced choice of more expensive replacement parts.
To enforce this type approval requirement, there is a proposal to conduct ‘market surveillance’ on replacement parts and components, although it is not yet clear exactly how this may be conducted, there have already been ‘dawn raids’ on parts distributors in some European countries.
These proposals in the revised type approval legislation have been vigorously challenged by FIGIEFA (the European association of spare parts distributors), who have claimed that these proposals are both unnecessary and disproportionate. Additionally, they will create unfair competition, rather than resolve it and will raise costs with little proven benefit. At worst, it will increase costs for legitimate European manufacturers, whilst obliging repair workshops to buy original parts from their local dealer – undermining the competitive choice of the aftermarket and increasing consumer costs. Just remind me – who will benefit from all of this?
So supporting one of the aftermarket organisations that help FIGIEFA fight this challenge is more important than ever – your future choices are worth fighting for.
You can find more about Neil’s aftermarket consultancy at: xenconsultancy.com