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A citizen’s challenge

June 16, 2017

Embatex Iberia’s Javier Martinez discusses the recent European Commission (EC) studies into printers, as well as the EC’s investigations into the cartels in car and trucking industries.

The European Commission is at last conducting two studies that have the printer and its business model in question. Can we go on like this? Are we going to allow, for example, washing machine manufacturers, based on the Internet of Things, to copy the print model and break our freedom of choice, and have a decent detergent price?  Can any other new business do the same? Do we want to change washing machines every three years ?

The Facts have made Commission technicians take a look at a market, crowded with a lot of peculiarities, and after proposing to make “goodwill changes” ( voluntary agreement ), manufacturers have demonstrated a tremendous degree of deafness, or let’s say it more clear – an incredible degree of shareholder greed.

The first of the two studies is an analysis about why the remanufacturing mandates and targets are far from being reached, and the first case they study is printer cartridges! Hazards? Evidence

of abuse? This comes under the Director General for the Environment for the enforcement of WEEE-2 article 4.The second one is a revision of the Ecolabel criteria for printers, and why no manufacturer has tried to achieve it, plus a revision of GPP (green public procurement) guidelines for reprographic devices. Again, it is the Director General for the Environment that takes care of this.

It looks as if the European Commission is focusing on the printer industry …why? Is it the first time that a global industry challenges the European Commission, and thus its consumers and citizens? Well, not at all! Messages have been many times disregarded on different sectors, and the changes and investments done by OEMs were just aiming in the very opposite direction.

The automobile industry tried to seize us, even kidnap our freedom of choice and free trade. Many years ago, they did so through the use of tactics via authorised dealers, making it painful and terribly expensive to fix maintenance or incidental costs on vehicle service. For a time the use of non-official oil was enough to void any warranty!

No matter whether we fulfil DIN and SAE oil requirements, no matter that car manufacturers were a mere packer for a true oil company – using alternative oil was an offence that was enough to cancel a warranty. But a courageous guy to whom we still owe our “car freedom” came to the Commission’s competition directorate and changed the rules: Mr. Mario Monti, grazie mille!

If you think this was an abuse, the recent truck case went even one step further, when truck manufacturers not only did not take into consideration the Commission’s suggestion to reduce the pollutant impacts of diesel engines, but to create a cartel, and jointly decide that none of them was going to invest to have a better air! The case ended with one of the biggest fines issued by the Commission totalling €3 billion ($3.1 billion)!

Then the phone companies also tried to use technology to seize customers, and for a time they were successful as telephones provided by an operator could not be used by another one when the customer decided to change company. Now when we look at our printing market, some very clear facts still arise. For example, the number of competitors in domestic ink in the last 10 years or more has kept stable at four. No-one in, no-one out.

For example, the ink price per printed page paid by customers – as opposed to the cost of ink paid for the same customer to write a page manually. Some figures can demonstrate that we all print with a ‘Montblanc’ – an average 19ml cartridge can print up to 600 pages at a cost of €30 ($31). That makes five cents a page: and it has kept constant for the last few years?

Do you know how much it costs to write a page? Can you write 60 pages or more with a 60 cent ball pen? I found test data about them – a Staedtler costing an amazing six cents per kilometre written was the winner! Sure, you can write it with a Montblanc, but general people have an affordable option. Have you ever seen a OEM’s price list reducing prices, because of competitors or the crisis? Just the other way round – small sales drop were compensated by price increase!

This is bad news for citizens and customers “per se”, without taking into consideration the tremendous amount of waste they are generating. Manufacturers will say that they need fair prices to make innovation, but the truth is that as of today, the customer’s money is working against him, as it is very clear that majority of investment (more than 60 to 70 percent) is allocated to create barriers of all kinds.

From anti-reutilisation devices and tactics, to technology firmware updates, to special bonuses for loyalty – the possibilities for a customer to face problems using an alternative product is incredibly big. But still I see a lot of people “used” to this abuse, and you have to ask them: will you allow it in your car? Will you accept that every time you put oil in your car, the dashboard tells you: “Please refill always with VW gasoline and oil at €200/l”! “Are you sure you want to refill with regular gasoline? Some features of your car may be lost if you do so”!

How about waking up one morning with a message on the car: “Sorry Mr. Martinez, you cannot start your car as you used an alternative service, and updating the firmware, we have blocked your car.” Or when you call the workshop, and they tell you: “Sorry Mr. Martinez, we have seen via the internet that by the plate number you do not use official products, so we are not honouring the warranty, and our workshop is collapsed. We will not be able to fix your problem in the next three weeks.”

Well, I hope in the years to come I will proudly say: Margrethe Vestager, mange tak!


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