In a test case brought by Gesamtverband Autoteile-Handel e.V. – a client of international legal practice Osborne Clarke – against the vehicle manufacturer Scania, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) today handed down another landmark decision in favour of competition in the automotive sector (Case C-319/22).
According to Regulation (EU) 2018/858, vehicle manufacturers are obliged to provide their competitors on the motor vehicle aftermarket with technical information in the form of machine-readable and electronically processable data sets. For a long time, there was a dispute as to whether this applies to all categories of technical information, in what format it must be provided, and whether it also includes the vehicle identification numbers (VIN) of the vehicles. The ECJ has now answered all of these questions in favour of competition. Accordingly, vehicle manufacturers must provide their VINs and offer all associated technical information as datasets in a format that is suitable for direct electronic processing.
“Today's clarifications by the ECJ strengthen competition on the markets for parts and services in the European Union. The ECJ emphasised this objective of the Regulation in several places in its judgment. All European consumers will benefit from this,” says Marcus Sacré of Osborne Clarke.
The provision of vehicle identification numbers is particularly important for competition. The ECJ has expressly recognised that only a search via the VIN leads to the exact identification of the data of a specific vehicle. On the basis of this judgement, it will also be possible to find suitable spare parts and technical information quickly and precisely on the independent market via the vehicle identification number. “Claiming data protection as a basis for refusing to disclose the VIN is now no longer tenable,” says Elisabeth Macher of Osborne Clarke. Data protection expert Marc Störing from Osborne Clarke adds: “Even if the VIN may be personal data in some cases, the regulation gives the vehicle manufacturer a clear obligation and therefore also the legal basis to provide it.”
In addition, it has now been clarified that vehicle manufacturers do not necessarily have to provide an automated database interface with the possibility of machine-controlled search queries; however, they must provide technical information in a format that enables further electronic processing directly, i.e., without intermediate steps. “This applies not only to spare parts information, but to all repair and maintenance information,” Paul Schmitz of Osborne Clarke emphasises.
Vehicle manufacturers must implement these obligations immediately. With its ruling, the ECJ has clarified in a binding manner how the regulation, which has been in force since September 2020, is to be understood. Violations of the obligations set out therein are subject to considerable sanctions, including the withdrawal of type approval.
Scania was advised by law firm Noerr (Dr Dominik Wendel, Dr Fabian Hübener and Benedikt Lutz).