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The Evolution of Price Dispersion in the European Car Market

  • Pinelopi Koujianou Goldberg
  • Frank Verboven

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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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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Publication status: published as Review of Economic Studies, Vol. 68, no. 4 (October 2001): 811-848
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6818
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  1. Malueg, David A. & Schwartz, Marius, 1994. "Parallel imports, demand dispersion, and international price discrimination," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 37(3-4), pages 167-195, November.
  2. Mertens, Yves & Ginsburgh, Victor, 1985. "Product Differentiation and Price Discrimination in the European Community: The Case of Automobiles," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 34(2), pages 151-66, December.
  3. Steven T. Berry, 1994. "Estimating Discrete-Choice Models of Product Differentiation," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 25(2), pages 242-262, Summer.
  4. Victor A. Ginsburgh, 2003. "Art markets," Chapters, in: A Handbook of Cultural Economics, chapter 4 Edward Elgar.
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  6. Nevo, Aviv, 1999. "Measuring Market Power in the Ready-to-Eat Cereal Industry," Competition Policy Center, Working Paper Series qt7cm5p858, Competition Policy Center, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
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  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Victor Ginsburgh & Yves Mertens, 1985. "Product differentiation and discrimination in the European Community: the case of automobiles," ULB Institutional Repository 2013/1755, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
  11. Kirman, Alan & Schueller, Nathalie, 1990. "Price Leadership and Discrimination in the European Car Market," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 39(1), pages 69-91, September.
  12. 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.
  13. Frank Verboven, 1996. "International Price Discrimination in the European Car Market," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 27(2), pages 240-268, Summer.
  14. Davidson, Russell & Dewatripont, Mathias & Ginsburgh, Victor & Labbe, Martine, 1989. "On the welfare effects of anti-discrimination regulations in the EC car market," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 7(2), pages 205-230, June.
  15. Marston, Richard C., 1990. "Pricing to market in Japanese manufacturing," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 29(3-4), pages 217-236, November.
  16. 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.
  17. Knetter, Michael M, 1993. "International Comparisons of Price-to-Market Behavior," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(3), pages 473-86, June.
  18. Pinelopi K. Goldberg & Michael M. Knetter, 1995. "Measuring the Intensity of Competition in Export Markets," NBER Working Papers 5226, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  19. Feenstra, Robert C & Levinsohn, James A, 1995. "Estimating Markups and Market Conduct with Multidimensional Product Attributes," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 62(1), pages 19-52, January.
  20. Smith, Alasdair & Venables, Anthony J., 1991. "Economic integration and market access," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 35(2-3), pages 388-395, April.
  21. Atkinson, A. B., 1997. "Measurement of Trends in Poverty and the Income Distribution," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 9712, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
  22. Pinelopi K. Goldberg & Michael M. Knetter, 1996. "Goods Prices and Exchange Rates: What Have We Learned?," NBER Working Papers 5862, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  23. 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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