SEMA News—December 2020

INTERNATIONAL

German Court Rules in Favor of the Automotive Aftermarket

By Linda Spencer

Germany
Leonberg, Germany-based Techart produces a wide range of customizing products for Porsche vehicles, including aero kits, alloy wheels, performance upgrades and interior and exterior styling products. Pictured here is a GTstreet RS, a custom-built super sports car based on the Porsche 911 Turbo S.

The German tuning association Verband der Automobil Tuner e. V. (VDAT) has won an important battle in its lengthy litigation against German sports car manufacturer Porsche. Germany’s second-highest court—the Higher Regional Court of Stuttgart—has ruled that Porsche cannot deny access to its parts and vehicles to aftermarket vehicle customizers.

The court struck down Porsche’s efforts to limit the sale of its parts and vehicles as violating German and European antitrust laws. Specifically, the court ruled that several provisions in a Porsche circular (a so-called Declaration of Commitment, as translated into English) were illegal. The circular placed restrictions on whom its dealers—known as Porsche Centres—could sell vehicles and parts to. Only commercial customers who vouched in a legally binding document that the vehicles and parts were to be used only for repairs and maintenance and not to be used to create customizing products were to be approved. Breaking that contract stipulated a 10,000 Euro (approximately $11,776 USD) penalty payable to Porsche.

VDAT first filed its case against Porsche back in November 2013. That followed a separate case brought against the vehicle manufacturer by Techart, an aftermarket Porsche tuner and VDAT member company headquartered in southwest Germany. The high court ruling in Techart’s favor concluded that Porsche’s denying access to its vehicles and parts as well as its proprietary Porsche Integrated Workshop Information System for diagnostics and information to Techart—an independent aftermarket customizing company specializing in Porsche modification—might well put Techart out of business to the benefit of Porsche’s own customization program as well as its repair and maintenance services of these popular German sports cars.

The German association filed its own suit, noted Harald Schmidtke, VDAT’s managing director. The association suit sought a broader ruling to ensure similar access for the entire industry and to head off possible similar actions by other vehicle manufacturers, as the Techart ruling did not equivocally provide that access beyond Techart.

“Without a similar ruling in the case of VDAT, other vehicle manufacturers could well follow suit and thus greatly harm our industry,” Schmidtke said.

While the Techart Porsche case has already prevailed in Techart’s favor in the country’s top judicial court—the Federal Court of Justice, known in German as the Bundesgerichtshof (BGH)—the broader VDAT case is still ongoing. Porsche is expected to appeal the case to the BGH. It remains to be seen if the court will agree to take up the case or if the Higher Regional Court of Stuttgart ruling in favor of VDAT will be the final word.

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