Major European supermarket chains could start selling cars to private and company drivers if changes to the block exemption laws open up the market next year.
On August 14, a supermarket based in the south German town of Karlsruhe won a legal battle that allows it to sell cars as part of a package with electrical equipment or holidays.
The court rejected a petition from Fiat Auto which sought to stop the Edeka supermarket chain from selling Puntos to customers.
The judge's rejection of Fiat's argument could lead to a rush of supermarket car sales initiatives. He said it was perfectly legal to bundle products such as cars and electrical goods together and sell the package for an inclusive price.
And UK chain Sainsbury's - one of the UK's biggest retailers - says it is perfectly positioned to become a major car retailer if European block exemption rules are scrapped.
At the moment car manufacturers have the power to say who can and cannot sell their cars, but changes to block exemption could take that power away.
European authorities are due to publish plans for amending - or even abolishing - the block exemption rulings over the next few weeks.
A spokesman pointed out that Sainsbury's had huge buying power that would allow it to cut prices. Sainsbury's already has a major banking arm that would be used to offer finance to car buyers.
'We have worked out how we could display the cars outside, and how we could link the car retailing business to our finance arm,' he said.
'We already target company car drivers through contract hire deals, and that could be extended if the market allows us to sell cars in volume.' But he added that no final decision to launch a car sales operation has yet been taken.
Gert Dushan, Edeka spokesman, described the Karlsruhe judge's decision as 'a victory for the customer'. (September 2001)