Fleet News

VW accused of bullying tactics over 'net sales

MANUFACTURERS are fighting a rearguard action against new distribution channels that threaten to steamroller established UK sales routes. The internet is allowing new car buyers to circumvent their local dealer and shop for the cheapest price anywhere in the UK, or even Europe.

Such developments are a major concern for some car makers and their dealers, with Volkswagen recently warning its dealer network that they risk losing their franchises if they are found supplying 'agents and brokers'. The manufacturer argues that its retailers are allowed to advertise their cars anywhere they want, but that they cannot appoint agents to sell for them who have made no investment in servicing and back-up facilities.

VW claims its instruction to dealers had nothing to do with preventing discounting, and said it could offer no reason why a customer could buy a car more cheaply from an internet provider than from one of its franchised outlets. But the Consumers' Association immediately condemned VW's 'bullying tactics' and called on European Commissioner for Competition, Karel van Miert, to investigate the issue.

Sheila McKechnie, director of the CA, said: 'The EC must take action to show motor manufacturers that they cannot get away with preventing consumers shopping around and getting a better deal.' internet car sales spcialist Autobytel said VW's actions showed the manufacturer did not understand the internet's role as a customer-driven channel to market. Chief executive Kevin Turnbull said: 'We were amazed when we heard VW had sent this letter to its dealers. Our service is simply driven by the online consumer. It simplifies the car buying process and reduces dealer costs - which can be passed on to the customer in lower prices.'

He is seeking clarification from VW about its 'hostility' to internet suppliers, and pointed to the 20,000 online visitors that pass through Autobytel's UK site every month, and the 1,000 purchase requests already accepted as evidence of a real consumer appetite for car buying on the web. VW's actions, he claimed, had halted orders in the Autobytel system, delaying or denying customers their right to buy a VW online.

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