French watchdog calls for car repairs deregulation

PARIS, Oct 8 (Reuters) - France's competition watchdog on Monday called for a deregulation of the car maintenance market to put the brakes on the rising cost of vehicle repairs.

The deregulation would give French repair shops the freedom to buy spare parts such as bumpers, windscreens, lights and rear-view mirrors from suppliers other than their original manufacturers.

"Car makers have an actual monopoly on more than 70 percent of these parts, and enjoy a duopoly with part manufacturers on the remaining 30 percent," France's Autorite de la Concurrence said in a statement.

As a result, while the number of repairs in France declined 15 percent between 2000 and 2010, the price of car maintenance, excluding inflation, has ballooned by almost 30 percent, the regulator said.

The market for parts used to assemble vehicles, however, would not be affected by the plan.

The regulator said it would allow a gradual lifting of car makers' monopoly on spare parts to take into account the slump in car sales in austerity-hit Europe.

The French auto makers' association warned the decision would hit up to 2,200 jobs and lead to reduced choice for consumers as distributors would focus on more profitable parts.

French consumer group UFC-Que Choisir said it was satisfied with the report.

The French government will now decide whether to implement the regulator's recommendations.

(Reporting by Gilles Guillaume; Writing by Elena Berton; Editing by Mark Potter)