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The Evolution of Price Dispersion in the European Car Market

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  • Pinelopi Koujianou Goldberg
  • Frank Verboven

Abstract

Car prices in Europe are characterized by large and persistent differences across countries. The purpose of this paper is to document and explain this price dispersion. Using a panel data set extending from 1980 to 1993, we first demonstrate two main facts concerning car prices in Europe: (1) The existence of significant differences in quality adjusted prices across countries, with Italy and the U.K. systematically representing the most expansive markets; (2) Substantial year-to-year volatility that is to a large extent accounted for by exchange rate fluctuation and the incomplete response of local currency prices to these fluctuations. These facts are analyzed within the framework of a multiproduct oligopoly model with product differentiation. The model identifies three potential sources for the international price differences: price elasticities generating differences in markups, costs, and import quota constraints. Local currency price stability can be attributed either to the presence of a local component in marginal costs, or to markup adjustment that is correlated with exchange rate volatility; the latter requires that the perceived elasticity of demand is increasing in price. We find that the primary reason for the higher prices in Italy is the existence of a strong bias for domestic brands that generates high markups for the domestic firm (Fiat). In the U.K. higher prices are mainly attributed to better equipped cars and/or differences in the dealer discount practices. The import quota constraints are found to have a significant impact on Japanese car prices in Italy, France, and the U.K. With respect to local currency price stability, 2/3 of the documented price inertia are attributed to local costs, and 1/3 to markup adjustment that is indicative of price discrimination. Based on these results, we conjecture that the EMU will substantially reduce the year-to -year volatility observed in the car price data, but without further measures to increase European integration, it will not completely eliminate existing cross-country price differences.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 6818.

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Date of creation: Nov 1998
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6818

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  1. Knetter, Michael M, 1989. "Price Discrimination by U.S. and German Exporters," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(1), pages 198-210, March.
  2. Goldberg, Pinelopi Koujianou & Knetter, Michael M., 1999. "Measuring the intensity of competition in export markets," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 47(1), pages 27-60, February.
  3. Gagnon, Joseph E. & Knetter, Michael M., 1995. "Markup adjustment and exchange rate fluctuations: evidence from panel data on automobile exports," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 14(2), pages 289-310, April.
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  11. Smith, Alasdair & Venables, Anthony J., 1988. "Completing the internal market in the European Community : Some industry simulations," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 32(7), pages 1501-1525, September.
  12. Goldberg, Pinelopi Koujianou, 1995. "Product Differentiation and Oligopoly in International Markets: The Case of the U.S. Automobile Industry," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 63(4), pages 891-951, July.
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  14. Pinelopi Koujianou Goldberg & Michael M. Knetter, 1997. "Goods Prices and Exchange Rates: What Have We Learned?," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 35(3), pages 1243-1272, September.
  15. Smith, Alasdair & Venables, Anthony J., 1988. "Counting the Cost of Voluntary Export Restrictions in the European Car Market," CEPR Discussion Papers 249, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
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  18. Malueg, D.A. & Schwartz, M., 1993. "Parallel Imports, Demand Dispersion and International Price Discrimination," Papers 93-6, U.S. Department of Justice - Antitrust Division.
  19. Berry, Steven & Levinsohn, James & Pakes, Ariel, 1995. "Automobile Prices in Market Equilibrium," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 63(4), pages 841-90, July.
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