|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||05/10/95, Volume 1, Number 03|
Looking for a sound investment in Belgian industry? Car alarms, my friends, put your francs into car alarms, a gilt-edged growth area if ever there was one.
To make steady money, you need to be selling what everybody wants or at least needs. Food, for instance, toilet rolls, disposable nappies, the must-haves of life.
In Belgium, car alarms are a must-have, the best kind of must-have because they have the force of law behind them. And when the law gets into bed with the industry, the consumer is made an offer that cannot be refused.
Not only must you have a car alarm, dear customer, but we, the authorities, can simplify your life by telling you exactly what kind of car alarm you can have.
One newly-arrived expatriate imported into Belgium a car he had bought in Italy and made all the appropriate arrangements to register and use it here. If he gave any thought at all to the single market, he probably assumed that a car fit for use in Rome was fit for use in Brussels.
Not so: when he tried to insure it here, his broker asked if the vehicle was alarmed. Yes it was, very much so, said the client, and demonstrated an extremely sophisticated and costly anti-theft system befitting his highly-prized BMW convertible.
Soon it was the car owner's turn to be alarmed. Sorry, said the broker, that won't do: you've got to have a system approved by the Belgian authorities. This one, he acknowledged, the one the factory fitted and which, therefore, can be relied upon to be eminently suitable for the job, may be more secure than the basic one required to meet Belgian safety standards. It may, in fact, repel all known car thieves, even those deploying batteries of bazookas or bursting into your prized motor by flattening it with a Chieftan tank.
Unfortunately, it is not the recognised car alarm as tried, tested and approved by the Belgian car alarm manufacturers working, of course, in close cooperation with the insurance industry. It does not, as they say in the trade “agree”.
The insurance broker himself, could not, of course, make the necessary changes, but funnily enough he just happened to know a man who could. For a fraction over 22,000 Belgian francs, the BMW's sophisticated security system was castrated and replaced by the only one acceptable to the Belgians.
Strange coincidence, because the same thing happened to me when I bought a new car without an alarm. I told the insurance people I was having one fitted, a good one for about 12,000 francs, and my broker said sorry, that won't do, it has to meet a certain Belgian standard.
Funnily enough, he knew a garage where it could be done. For a fraction over 22,000 francs, I now have a car alarm which beeps whenever you leave the car key in the ignition with the engine switched off, such as when getting petrol or stopping the car to speak to someone, and which also beeps whenever you take the key out but leave the car unlocked but take the key with you, such as when getting the same petrol or stopping to speak to the same someone.
It beeps when you get in, get out, set off, stop, stare at it, wash it, lean on it. It beeps, in fact, under any circumstances at all, apart from when it is being driven. 'Beep' is the wrong word. It bellows and screeches and orange lights flash and the only attention it attracts is from people who look around and mutter: “Oh dear, another idiot with a car alarm.”
But I have a secret. It is such a closely-guarded secret that it is known only to me and everyone else who owns a Belgian-standard car alarm.
The secret is that there is a little lock in the engine compartment where I can turn off my car alarm. The fitting company even supplies you with the key. Not that anyone in their right minds would disconnect the alarm, of course, perish the thought, that would be silly. It's just that the alarm system is so daft, so over-prescriptive, so environmentally unfriendly and so demonstrably by-passable by any car thief, that you need the key to switch it off when it goes off by accident.
And here, says my garage man with a nudge and a wink as we lean into the engine bay, is the place to switch it off if ever, on some very rare occasion like just after you drive off round the corner, you decide you need to silence the stupid thing, temporarily of course.
A little bird has told me that there are thousands of cars on the roads of Belgium which are fitted, and I use the word advisedly and in its narrowest terms, with these compulsory alarms. But thanks to the little key, they need never trouble the campaigners against noise pollution and keep us awake in the small hours with their distant, insistent rantings.
Unluckily for my BMW driver, he can't find his on-off-switch and has not been supplied with the necessary key. And thus it was that he endured the odium of his fellow passengers aboard a car ferry to Sardinia this summer. His envied BMW sat on the car deck with other vehicles, rolling with the Mediterranean swell and screeching and flashing to its heart's content.
Sorry, said the embarrassed driver, as this appalling racket continued throughout the crossing, there's nothing I can do. The alarm is sensitive to motion, you see, and the only way to stop it is to leave the key in the ignition and the engine running, which will leave me without petrol and your boat full of poisonous gas.
True, his car wasn't stolen on the crossing. But then again nor was anybody else's.
The system does actually work, though, despite itself; these cartel-ised car alarms, dominating the market with a truly alarming money-spinning monopoly, do send thieves running for cover.
Not from fear of being caught, for these days no-one treats an activated car alarm with anything more than contempt. No, simply from fear of being wrongly identified as the idiot who owns the damn thing.
|Subject Categories||Business and Industry, Internal Markets|
|Countries / Regions||Belgium|