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Monday, 30 May 2016

CMA’s consumer powers: updated guidance - Consultations - GOV.UK

From the press release on GOV.UK:

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is inviting views on its updated draft guidance on its consumer powers.
The guidance:
  • sets out how the CMA uses its consumer powers to address market wide consumer problems
  • explains how it enforces consumer protection law and its investigatory enforcement powers

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The truth hurts! A brutally honest car ad penned by a desperate dealer - Car Dealer Magazine

Car Dealer Magazine tells the story of how a Merseyside car dealer, Richard Harris of Classic Cars in Wirral, struggling to find anything good to say about a 1998 BMW 318 which had been taken as a trade-in, simply told it exactly as it was. The car was disposed of through eBay (here's the advert), so clearly it was never going to be an expensive one, but calling it (as he did) a "piece of crap" was never likely to realise a good price.

It's wonderfully refreshing to see a brutally honest car advertisement - indeed, an advert for anything that pulls no punches - although it is hard to see it catching on. Mr Harris explained (to the Daily Mail) that the ad reflected his frustration at the high expectations customers had of the most unloved, abused cars. He thought that, based on the views they had received (and at least the brutal ad would probably lead a few people to other cars the dealer had for sale) he would try a similar approach again.

He certainly has a gift for writing entertaining copy!

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Accept liability for autonomous cars, or you have no product, says Volvo CEO - Automotive World

Automotive World reports comments by Volvo President and CEO HÃ¥kan Samuelsson, which follow from the company's announcement several months ago (20 October 2015, to be precise) that it would assume responsibility for the actions of its self-driving cars. It hoped that this would help ensure that legislation to permit testing of autonomous cars was adopted across the USA, where different states take very different approaches: there is also a diverse response in Europe, although the focus seems to be on the bigger market.

The proposition that if manufacturers won't accept responsibility there will be no market for their products is a logical one, although the problem about legislation appears to be confined to testing - for the time being at least. What will be interesting to see, as we surely will in the fullness of time, is what provisos, exceptions and exclusions the manufacturers' lawyers add - "we accept liability for the actions of our autonomous cars, except where ...".

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EU set to impose record cartel fine on truckmakers - reports that a cartel of truck manufacturers is likely to face the biggest financial penalty ever imposed by the Commission. The cartel has been found to have fixed prices and - topically - delayed introducing new technology to deal with emissions. DAF, Daimler, Iveco, Scania, MAN and Volvo/Renault were originally accused in 2014 of operating the cartel between 1997 and 2011, and the report tells us that four of the companies have made provisions amounting to $2.6 billion. They could be ordered to pay up to ten per cent of global turnover, which would be about four times as much.

The investigation, which included raids on the participants' offices and in one instance a threat of criminal proceedings in the UK, began in 2011, showing just how long it takes for a matter like this to be brought to a conclusion.

The Commission has not yet reached a final decision on the penalty, but it is expected to be finalised this year and "possibly" within weeks. The size of the penalty reflects the wide-ranging impact of collusion - increase the cost of road haulage and you increase the cost of just about everything.

Cartels are by definition secretive and therefore hard to detect, so competition rules (including the EU's, and the UK's) have special dispensation for "whistleblowers" who may enjoy complete immunity from penalties. In this case the whistleblower was MAN, so it should not need to make financial provision to cover the penalty. Scania has reportedly made no provision either, on the grounds that it cannot estimate the impact. Two of the companies are reported to be asking for leniency on the grounds that the penalty could be enough to cause serious financial problems - and generally it is in no-one's interest to hit a major employer so hard that it has to close down. That is one of the arguments for criminal penalties for individual employees involved in setting up cartels, as we have in the UK.

The penalty will not, in any event, be the end of the story. "Follow-up" damages are likely to add to the pain. The road haulage industry has self-evidently suffered damage as a result of the cartel's activities, notwithstanding that it will have been able to pass on a proportion of the extra costs, and when the Commission's decision is made public it will pave the way for claims from hauliers. quotes Jack Semple, director of policy at the Road Haulage Association, as saying:

We will be waiting with very keen interest to see what the commission says. If we see record damages then there will be consequences for that.
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Thursday, 19 May 2016

US: VW hybrids face patent problems

Paice, a leading company in the hybrid technology field, is seeking an order to block the importat of VW, Audi and Porsche models into the US because they are alleged to infringe its patents, of which there are many. Toyota has already been the recipient of threats and settled some time ago. The US International Trade Commission is investigating: it has powers to ban imports which patent owners like to invoke - probably because it's much cheaper and quicker than suing for infringement.

Shut-off (not cheat) devices are everywhere!

Opel has admitted that the engine management software in Zafiras shuts off the exhaust treatment system under certain conditions. They also say this is legal. The announcement has come from the Transport Minister in Germany, and sounds not unlike Mitsubishi's recent admission about its system shutting off at a certain temperature. The difference seems to be that whereas Mitsubishi admitted to setting it to shut off at a temperature chosen for other (non-emissions) reasons, the same is not true of Opel. The systems are designed to shut off in certain circumstances, and there's nothing necessarily suspicious about it.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

VW seeks dismissal of some U.S. emissions claims

VW is asking a judge in California to dismiss some of the claims arising from Dieselgate. It argues that the claims involving 3 litre engined cars (about 85,000 of the 600,000 affected vehicles) were not sufficiently substantiated. The story is in Automotive News, here.

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Sunday, 15 May 2016

Norway's wealth fund to sue Volkswagen over emissions scandal | Reuters

Norway's sovereign wealth fund plans to sue Volkswagen over the emissions scandal, says Reuters. The fund has a substantial holding in the car maker, and the after-effect of Dieselgate has made a big dent in its profits. It is planning to join a class action in Germany.

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Friday, 13 May 2016

Bridgestone Wins Design Infringement Lawsuit with Chinese Tire Manufacturer - Automotive World

Via Automotive World, here is the press release put out by the tyre maker about its victory in a case against a Chinese company which had infringed its rights in tread designs:
Bridgestone Corporation (Bridgestone) today announced that it has received a favorable ruling in its lawsuit regarding infringement of tire tread design rights against Chinese tire manufacturer Triangle Tyre Co., Ltd (hereafter, Triangle Tyre).

Triangle Tyre had been manufacturing and selling tires using a tread pattern* for studless tires for which Bridgestone holds exclusive design rights. In October 2013, the Company filed a lawsuit with the Intermediate People’s Court in Changchun, China. The lawsuit claimed that the activities of Triangle Tyre constituted a design rights infringement. In July 2015, Bridgestone’s claim was upheld, and the court ordered Triangle Tyre to cease manufacture and sale of tires that use said tread pattern and pay damages to the Company. While Triangle Tyre appealed the ruling, the High People’s Court in Jilin Province upheld the original ruling in January 2016 at an appeal trial, resulting in a victory for Bridgestone.

Bridgestone is committed to protecting its intellectual property and will continue to deal with any unauthorized use or infringement of its patents, trademarks, or any other intellectual property in a strict manner. With this level of vigilance, Bridgestone is prioritizing the safety and quality associated with its products, and maintaining and enhancing its hard-earned brand value.
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German court bans Airscarf seat heating in Mercedes cars

Reuters reports that Mercedes has been banned from selling cars equipped with its Airscarf heating system, which blows warm air round your neck - useful if you are in a convertible and don't have a real scarf, presumably. Safer, perhaps, because a real scarf could become caught in a wheel. The device infinrges a patent. Strangely (and to the car maker's apparent consternation) although lower courts had sided with Mercedes, the Bundesgerichtshof found against them on appeal. Perhaps it shouldn't be too surprising, as that's why we have appeal courts.

No judgment available yet on the BGH website, at least not that I can find, but if I find it later I will post a link.

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Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Motor Codes passes CTSI audit for all three codes of practice - Car Dealer Magazine

Car Dealer Magazine tells us that Motor Codes' three codes of practice, for service and repair, vehicle warranty products and new cars, have met the requirements of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute’s CTSI’s Consumer Codes Approval Scheme, launched in 2001 by the former Office of Fair Trading to give the public increased confidence in trade associations and business organisations that operate codes of practice.Motor Codes' press release is here  (much the same as the Car Dealer story), but I can't find a link to the actual report on the CTSI website.

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Tuesday, 3 May 2016

USA: Dealer prevails in Performance Dispute Win

A press release from Arent Fox LLP, Law Firm, explains how the firm won an important case, in which the plaintiff was Beck Chevrolet Co., Inc., on the selective and arbitrary imposition by vehicle manufacturers of unfair and unreasonable sales standards. The issue arose from the use of state-wide benchmarks, which failed to take account of local factors, and turned on  two provisions of New York’s Franchised Motor Vehicle Dealer Act. Many dealers in the UK might wish there was a similar law here ...

The case, Beck Chevrolet Co., Inc. v General Motors LLC 2016 NY Slip Op 03412, came before the New York Court of Appeals (Rivera, J) on certified questions from the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and was decided on 3 May.

Arent Fox partner Russell P. McRory said:
Beck Chevrolet’s success will help stop manufacturers from implementing unfair and unreasonable sales standards that are selectively and arbitrarily applied, particularly when broad state or regional averages are applied to dealers located in markets bearing little resemblance to the state or regional benchmarks. This precedent could help set a new standard that will be referenced in performance disputes across the country.”
More information available from here.
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