JUVE Law Firm of the year

Distribution and Franchising

The emissions scandal shakes the auto industry

Not long ago the auto industry was an exciting place to be, abuzz with the concept of the connected car. But the VW emissions scandal brought the industry back down to earth in fall 2015. The investigative commission of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and of the Federal Motor Transport Authority put all manufacturers under the microscope, exposing other irregularities. After the recalls that followed, the distribution specialists now have their work cut out.

Yet companies from other sectors also took it as their cue to review their business dealings and contracts along the entire supply chain with an eye to compliance strength. Such supply chains often transcend several national borders, resulting in many companies choosing to standardize and simplify their contract systems, also on an international level. The continued difficult commercial relationship with Russia and, on the flipside, the growing interest in trade relations with Iran also contributed to the ever growing prominence of foreign trade law.

Rights of e-commerce in the spotlight

Still a hot topic, the role and rights of e-commerce have been wrestled with again recently. The decision made by the Federal Cartel Office with regard to Asics’ selective distribution system gave a clear signal here: the Office clearly criticized the manufacturer’s platform ban – i.e. prohibiting the sale of Asics products over portals such as eBay and Amazon. The European Court of Justice may be able to provide more clarity on the subject as it faces a number of questions on selective distribution.

Firms pitched between tradition and revolution

The distribution law firms are divided between a new and an old world. While several market players are firmly hanging on to their traditions and old structures, others are coming to grips with new topics in the market. In response to the growth in online retail, Noerr, for instance, further developed the area of supply chain finance. In this context, distribution antitrust law is playing an ever greater role. It therefore comes as no surprise that firms such as Gleiss Lutz, whose focus lies in this advisory field, are on the way up – Gleiss Lutz having been chosen to support Asics during the appeal process. Nor is it unusual that Eversheds has given its team a boost with an antitrust lawyer.

The firms with a traditionally strong setup in the auto area are those which will profit from the general uncertainty caused by the VW scandal. With compliance awareness on the rise, Hogan Lovells has benefited from its established orientation towards international contract management. CMS Hasche Sigle has now also positioned itself in this field after developing uniform purchase agreements for numerous countries on behalf of the Linde Group.

As distribution systems are generally becoming more internationalized, law firms that are part of a strong network, e.g. DLA Piper and Baker & McKenzie, are shifting more into focus, especially those that use these networks to manage complex, cross-border projects. That said, boutiques specialized in international business are also reaping the benefits, for example Tradeo. On the other hand, firms that define themselves by their long-standing business will fall behind in the medium term.

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