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The Evolution of Price Discrimination in the European Car Market

Listed author(s):
  • 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 expensive markets. (2) Substantial year-to-year volatility that is to a large extent accounted for by exchange rate fluctuations 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. ZUSAMMENFASSUNG - (Die Entwicklung der Preisdiskriminierung im europäischen Automobilmarkt) Die Autopreise in Europa sind durch große und beständige Unterschiede zwischen Ländern gekennzeichnet. Ziel dieses Beitrages ist es, diese Preisstreuung zu erklären. Anhand eines Paneldatensatzes für den Zeitraum von 1980 bis 1993 wird erstens aufgezeigt, daß signifikante Unterschiede in qualitätsangepaßten Peisen zwischen den Ländern bestehen, wobei Italien und Großbritannien die teuersten Märkte aufweisen. Zweitens lassen sich beträchtliche Schwankungen von Jahr zu Jahr feststellen, die vor allem auf Wechselkursveränderungen und unvollständige Reaktionen bei der lokalen Preissetzung zurückzuführen sind. Diese Sachverhalte werden im Rahmen eines Mehr-produkt-Oligopol-Modells mit Produktdifferenzierung analysiert. Das Modell identifiziert drei potentielle Quellen für internationale Preisunterschiede: Preiselastizitäten, die unterschiedliche Gewinnspannen erzeugen, Kosten- und Importquotenbeschränkungen. Inwieweit diese Ursachen im einzelnen zutreffen, wird für die verschiedenen Länder ausführlich erörtert. Insgesamt lassen die Ergebnisse darauf schließen, daß sich im Gefolge der europäischen Währungsunion die von Jahr zu Jahr zu beobachtenden Schwankungen der Automobilpreise verringern dürften; sie verdeutlichen aber auch, daß ohne weitere Maßnahmen in Richtung europäische Integration die existierenden Preisunterschiede zwischen den einzelnen Ländern nicht vollständig verschwinden werden.

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Paper provided by Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (WZB), Research Unit: Competition and Innovation (CIG) in its series CIG Working Papers with number FS IV 99-14.

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Length: 69 pages
Date of creation: Oct 1999
Publication status: Published in the Review of Economic Studies , Vol. 68(4), October 2001, pp. 811-848.
Handle: RePEc:wzb:wzebiv:fsiv99-14
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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. 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.
  3. Robert C. Feenstra & James A. Levinsohn, 1995. "Estimating Markups and Market Conduct with Multidimensional Product Attributes," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 62(1), pages 19-52.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Marston, Richard C., 1990. "Pricing to market in Japanese manufacturing," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 29(3-4), pages 217-236, November.
  8. 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.
  9. Victor Ginsburgh & Geneviève Vanhamme, 1989. "Price Differences in the EC Car Market. Some Further Results," Annals of Economics and Statistics, GENES, issue 15-16, pages 137-149.
  10. 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.
  11. Yves Mertens, 1990. "Modelling price behaviour in the European car market: 1970-1985," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 6787, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  12. 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.
  13. 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 151-166, December.
  14. Knetter, Michael M, 1993. "International Comparisons of Price-to-Market Behavior," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(3), pages 473-486, June.
  15. repec:adr:anecst:y:1989:i:15-16:p:06 is not listed on IDEAS
  16. Berry, Steven & Levinsohn, James & Pakes, Ariel, 1995. "Automobile Prices in Market Equilibrium," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 63(4), pages 841-890, July.
  17. 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.
  18. Yves Mertens, 1990. "Modelling Price Behaviour in the European Car Market: 1970-1985," STICERD - Economics of Industry Papers 01, Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines, LSE.
  19. Smith, Alasdair & Venables, Anthony J., 1991. "Economic integration and market access," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 35(2-3), pages 388-395, April.
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