Belgium’s second biggest supermarket chain Colruyt will start selling brand new cars from tomorrow, 23 January.
The cars are provided by independent Belgian car retailer Cardoen and initially only three models will be available: Ford’s Fiesta, the Daewoo Tacuma (Rezzo in some markets) and the Alfa Romeo 156.
Colryut is offering a 25% discount off the Fiesta’s official list price and a 22% reduction for the Daewoo and Alfa Romeo. Cars are displayed at only some of the Colruyt stores and customers order them with a €50 down payment at the checkout. Delivery is made at one of the seven Cardoen new car facilities in Belgium.
“This is a further step in the imminent liberalisation of the car market in Europe,” said Autos Cardoen president and CEO Karel Cardoen. “This action is a try-out for a new sales channel and, if successful, will be followed by even more interesting and exciting incentives for consumers.”
Cardoen claims to be one of the European Commission’s main discussion partners over the reform of the block exemption laws governing the motor industry and says it has been “often cited” by European Commissioner Mario Monti as one of the examples of what the future car market could bring in terms of new players, bringing better choice and lower prices to European consumers.
However, Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper last week said that the EC proposals to at least partly dismantle restrictions on manufacturers dictating who can sell their cars and where, the biggest shake-up of the European car distribution system in two decades, will continue to restrict supermarkets and internet companies from obtaining cars through dealer networks.
The newspaper said that the EC’s draft text noted that allowing supermarkets to act as primary distributors “may in the short term lead to price decreases. In the long run it may, however, be counter-productive: it could reduce the range of vehicles offered and hamper innovation.”
The Daily Telegraph said that consumer groups were critical of that suggestion though it had the support of Malcolm Harbour, a Conservative member of the European Parliament and car industry expert, who said that dealers have lower profit margins than supermarkets.
“The concern is that supermarkets could drive all the small dealers out of business, and then impose higher prices through an effective monopoly,” Harbour told the Daily Telegraph.
Meanwhile, Tesco, Britain’s biggest supermarket group which has been considering selling cars for some time, welcomed the news from Brussels, according to the FT last week.
“We never say never about selling cars – and it is no secret that it is an area we have been looking at,” Tesco director Lucy Neville-Rolf told the newspaper.
Carrefour, one of Europe’s largest supermarket groups, also told the FT that it could consider taking advantage of the Brussels authorities’ plans to allow retailers to sell cars once it had studied all the details of the proposals.